Don’t Touch the Money Bunny!: Artwork of the Week Makes a Comeback

"Jeff Koons is a big Blow Hard," Ray Beldner. Sewn US currency (after Jeff Koons's Rabbit, 1986)

If my gallerinas and I said it once, we said it 100 times a day — “Please don’t touch the money bunny!” There’s no denying that there’s something cuddly about Ray Beldner’s rabbit made out of sewn dollar bills. Maybe it’s the tilted head and the carrot that screams “pat the bunny!” And then you read the wall label and take note of the title, Jeff Koons is a Big Blow Hard, and suddenly it’s not so cuddly.

Commentary on the nature of the art market and the subsequent commoditization of art and artist, Jeff Koons is a Big Blow Hard attacks the blue-chip popular artist Jeff Koons while asking the question: what makes a work of art valuable — the artist, the medium, the subject, or the market?

The soft sculpture effectively renders the dollar bills useless as currency. The bills are no longer tradeable on the market they were designed for. They enter a new market with a new value — as art. Each bill is meaningless. Their value exists only stitched together as an entire work of art. Their value becomes what a collector will pay for them as a unit entitled Jeff Koons is a Big Blow Hard, by Ray Beldner.

Meanwhile the piece asks a number of other questions:

Is Jeff Koons a sell-out — sculpting lite subjects that people want to buy — or a veritable “Pop-Artist” whose work actually comments on the nature of the art collecting as its being collected?

And then again, what about Ray Beldner? Where does he fit in? Is he capitalizing on another artist’s reputation? Is his copy of a popular sculpture a work of art, a statement, or simply a pile of mutilated, worthless dollar-bills?

And Now What?!?

 

confused? dazed? lost?

confused? dazed? lost?

My thesis is done! Woooooot. 100 pages, 20 illustrations, 60 sources and over two years worth of tears, sweat, barnes and noble bills and overdue library books. I confess — there are two typos. Bugger. None the less, Columbia’s art history department now has in its possession my thesis by me. I can clear my shelf in Avery and relish the joy in having the freedom that follows a life without deadlines. I graduate on May 20th, yet that inevitable question that chases a pending grad has already reared its ugly head: you have a masters, now what?

 

You have a bachelors in Economics and a master’s in art history from Columbia. What are you doing next?

You’ve written a thesis on the professionalization of women artists in the 19th century and the revival of the painter-etcher in the 1880s. Whaccha gonna do with that?

It’s an economic recessions. What are your options?

You’re 23 going on 24. What now?

It’s a question that can be phrased in a thousand ways. Often it’s coupled with further queries into my personal life, usually “is there a boyfriend?” (I’ve gotten particularly good at dealing with the second one! “No, not yet it’s on my to do list… but they’re just so much work!”) The pair of questions are not new to me — I went through graduating two years ago. Then I was fortunate enough to have the master’s program lined up and thus an easy and credible explanation about my future. It’s a little different this time round.

When people ask me “now what,” I respond honestly but with hesitation: I’m taking the next year or two to write a book. About what? It’s an expansion of my thesis — my advisor wants me to do it. It sounds impressive doesn’t it? “I’m writing a book.” And if I’m wearing my glasses and when I tell you this, it’s even more impressive because I look like a legitimate intellectual.

But there are a few other things I could say, and have said that are also equally honest. I’m doing what all the cool people are doing — being unemployed for a while. That usually elicits a good laugh, and if not a laugh starts a serious conversation about the current state of the job market and looks of wonderment at the idea that a girl with 2 ivy league degrees is still not qualified for anything more than an unpaid internship in the present economic environment. I tell them I need a Rhodes — that’s the masters degree that promises legitimate jobs, PhD program acceptances and big-time book deals. If you have a Rhodes, everyone assumes you’re the next Bill Clinton, regardless of what that degree is in. If you have a master’s in art history, everyone assumes you’re going to be the next star of The Real Housewives of New York

Which brings me to my other response to all those who ask, “what now.”

Trophy Wife.

Two years ago as a weapon against those puzzled faces that appeared when I told people I was doing graduate work in art history, I pulled out the “but it’s really a practical degree in Trophy Wifedom and cocktail party conversation.” Of course, I wasn’t serious. Art History is fantastic as a discipline because it forces you to deal with a broad range of topics and fields as well as with the visual world. So yes, it does make you a fantastic conversationalist at cocktail parties and does lend you an air of sophistication (when required). But I aspire for a career in academia or as a museum curator… wife to a trophy husband or not.

Ya.. well that was before the economic crash. I have a fatal addiction to shoes and DVF dresses, and my little book on Ellen Day Hale ain’t going to pay those credit card bills. So, surely there’s some financially stable guy out there who’s just pining for an art historian wife? Did I mention I can cook too?

Art? Art History! It’s reputable!

Questions folks have asked me about my life as an art historian, my replies, their responses:

At the salon to a visibly very wealthy woman:

“You’re at Columbia! That’s fantastic. So is my son. What are you studying.”

“I’m a grad student in art history.”

My mother: “But she did her undergrad there in Economics.”

Woman: “Well thank goodness for that. She knows some men then.”

Me: “Not enough that make enough money. That’s why I study in the business school library.”

A friend:

“So, are there any straight men in art history.”

“Yes! There are 3.”

“In your program?”

“No. In the whole world of art history. oh, and 2 are married.”

With my High School Physics teacher:

“What are you doing graduate work in?”

“Art history.”

“So that means you’re going to be a barista at Starbucks.”

“No, that means I’m going to own a coffee shop in the east village.”

With my nail technician:

“What can you do with a PhD in Art History? Be a curator at the Met or something?”

“Sure. But I want to be a professor and write books.”

“Is there any money in that?”

“Not really. But I plan to marry well, so it’ll be okay.”

at a book launch at an art gallery:

“So what kind of art do you study?”

“American art, but I focus on the period between 1860 and 1940.”

“Why that particular field?”

“Because no one believes there was art in American before 1940.”

At an alumni event 2 days later:

“What kind of art do you study?”

“American Art made between 1860 and 1940.”

“There was art in American before 1940?”

At a downtown party, with a lawyer:

“What are you writing your paper on?”

“I’m working on a piece about images of logging on the West Coast of Canada and in general, the history of environmentalist concerns in Canadian painting. So, I’m focusing on this fantastic early 20th century Canadian artist names Emily Carr and a contemporary indigenous Canadian painter.”

“There are artists in Canada?”

A Friend:

“So why exactly do you want to rush back into academia?”

“Because my boobs are too small for me to have a viable career as a porn star.” (tilted head, squinted eyes. pauses. I laugh, they laugh. inquisitor assumes look of relief)

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