Earlier this year, artist Nikolas Bentel started selling ad space on an original Robert Rauschenberg print to cover it entirely. The gesture — interfering with the value of an artwork by unabashedly monetizing it, in a way that also eradicates it — was intended as a sardonic comment on the art market. Bentel described this arena of wild transactions as “a glorified stock market.”
Less than two months on, and the Rauschenberg is entirely covered: each square inch sold for $92.59. Obscuring the signed work, a 1973 print of “Sketch of Monogram,” is a garish quilt of pictures, from company logos to two doodles of penises. Bentel calls his work “The Erased Rauschenberg” (2018).
While Bentel initially told Hyperallergic that he would “destroy a Robert Rauschenberg,” he has really replaced it with a new artwork — just as Rauschenberg himself created new work after erasing a Willem de Kooning. And, to continue engaging with the art market, Bentel is now preparing to sell it. He’s partnered with the New Museum-led incubator NEW INC, where he is a resident, to auction off the ad-covered Rauschenberg on March 5. Bidding price of $20,000. All of the proceeds will go towards a NEW INC scholarship fund for incoming artists to the program who need financial aid.
“The price is doubled as a way to remark on the randomness and meaninglessness of the of the sums being paid in the current art world economic bubble,” Bentel told Hyperallergic. His ultimate goal, he added, “is to make a statement about the art world and change the art world for the better. If it was simply an act of destruction, that becomes deleterious to people who are proactive in making the world a better place.” He said he decided to sell the piece after he received “overwhelming positive feedback” from people, which made him want to “give back to that community” that supported his project.
In addition to riffing on Rauschenberg’s artwork of erasure, Bentel’s project recalls one of the iconic internet enterprises of the early 2000s: The Million Dollar Homepage, created by Alex Tew, then a student raising money to fund his education. As Bentel did with his Rauschenberg, Tew sold blocks of pixels on a single page for people to share anything they wish. Just as Tew’s page (which stopped sales in 2006) captured goofy graphics and strange self-promotion, so does Bentel’s piece reflect a sort of cultural zeitgeist, dick pics and all. The eventual owner will be purchasing what Bentel calls “the inner workings of the internet at play.”