[This particular MMSTM began as a dream I had after a thimbleful of tequila. Granted, it was a thimble from the sewing kit of Johann Petursson, the “Viking Giant” of sideshow fame, but I didn’t realize just how big it was until I dropped a penny in. I’m still waiting to hear it hit bottom. Anyway, the MMSTM started in a dream. Then it was a press release that I mailed to a certain number of people and also posted on the World Wide Web at bengreenman.com. Then it was in McSweeney’s Issue 11, in the Letters section. It has had so many iterations in its short life! How exciting for it! To date, it has been extremely successful; the specifics of its success are explained in an introductory note to MMSTM #2.]
When Edison invented the incandescent lightbulb, he had his people send out a press release. It said, “A Bright Idea Has Been Born.” When Watson and Crick discovered the double-helical structure of the DNA molecule, they had their people send out a press release. It said, “DNA Is Tangled Up in YOU.” It is this spirit of entrepreneurial invention that has guided the drafting of this document, which will serve as an official announcement of the creation of the world’s first and only Conceptual Art Registry.
The Conceptual Art Registry shares traits with both the double helix and the light bulb. On the one hand, it is complex and self-referential; on the other hand, it has the power to illuminate. It can best be explained as a kind of catalog that collects hundreds, and possibly thousands, of brief descriptions of ideas for conceptual art shows, ideas that will be organized by type and published on the World Wide Web. Artists of all types, working in all media, from all regions of the world, will then be invited to browse the catalog. Should an artist find an idea that appeals to him, he can license it for his own use. The licensing fee will be determined by a simple formula that takes into account the size of an artist’s project, the duration the show is designed to run, the independence of an idea (in other words, whether it is to be used on its own or in combination with other ideas), and an artist’s previous reputation. Onetime licensing is expected to run between $100 and $500.
This document is the wrong place to describe the contents of the Registry in detail, but the right place to furnish an overview. The Registry will deal with all varieties of artwork, including gallery shows, performance pieces, video installations, sound sculptures, and new media artwork. Each category will be denoted with a three-letter abbreviation (GAL for gallery shows, PER for performance pieces, VID for video installations, and so on), and each work assigned a three-digit number, thus limiting the number of conceptual pieces in each category to one thousand, which should be sufficient. The only unifying principle behind the works described in the catalog is that they are conceptual: to wit, they contain some recursive feature, whether self-referential, self-aggrandizing, or self-annihilating, that renders them both superior to and inferior to more conventional fine art. Take, for example, GAL387, a variation on an ordinary gallery show that reverses the size relationship between the title cards (those anonymous white labels that contain information about the works displayed in the show) and the works themselves. In any show that uses GAL387 as a conceptual foundation, the labels must be at least five feet square, and the works themselves can be no larger than six inches square. The result is both a comic visual shock and a canny commentary on the ways in which attempts to define works of art can be a form of subversion. Alternatively, there is GAL499, in which all paintings are turned to face the wall. In this case, the paintings can be landscapes, abstracts, portraits of historical figures, hyperrealistic scenes of battle, or any other image; the Registry is only responsible for the idea of turning the images toward the wall.
GAL387 and GAL499 are only two of many gallery-themed conceptual art pieces that will soon be available for licensing in the Registry. One more example will clarify the matter for those who are still hazy: VID089, which is a video installation that consists of twelve monitors set into gallery walls like paintings, complete with frames. Over each monitor, there is a camera, recessed into the wall and placed behind plate glass but not hidden. The cameras run throughout active gallery hours—in fact, they run only during the active gallery hours. More to the point, the monitor beneath each camera displays precisely what the camera witnessed the previous day, in real time. In other words, the show consists entirely of a record of the previous day’s audience’s reaction to the show, which itself consisted entirely of a reaction to the previous day’s audience’s reaction, and so forth. The footage displayed on the monitor the first day of the show can be of two varieties: either video of an empty room (that would be VID089a) or video created by gallery employees that mimics the reactions of average gallery patrons (VID089b). Again, the Registry does not stipulate—indeed, it does not care about—the exact size of the monitors, the nature of the frames, or whether or not the images are accompanied by sound. These are questions that can be answered by individual artists after they have licensed the idea. The Registry cares only about furnishing inspiration to artists, and being compensated appropriately.
The Conceptual Art Registry, privately owned and produced, will be administered by a small staff of accountants and auditors. The terms of usage will be governed by a Standard Licensing Agreement, which will also reside on the site and include such essential sections as “Definition,” “Usage,” and “Payment and Delivery.” Finally, it is worth noting that the Conceptual Art Registry is also its first customer: just this morning, the Registry paid itself a generous fee of $500 for the rights to license NEW065, which is a new-media art project described as a “a kind of catalog that collects hundreds, and possibly thousands, of brief descriptions of ideas for conceptual art shows.”