Sunday, March 18, 2007

Art for Blood

Regular readers of The Masticator know that the skyrocketing price of art and luxury goods (pre-distressed designer jeans have me particularly worked up) is troubling to me.

Yesterday, on former Spy magazine editor Kurt Anderson's NPR radio show Studio 360, I heard about an artists' consortium doing something very different in pricing their work: they sell it for blood.

Quorum San Francisco is a troupe of about 15 artists, writers, and art dealers "dedicated to generating arts discourse, and transforming that dialogue into action."

At last Fall's Scope Art Fair in Miami, a show timed to correspond with the famous and huge Art Basel Miami Beach, Quorum offered prints by members of their collective to fair-goers in exchange for a pint of blood given by appointment at one of South Florida's blood donation centers. To be clear, Quorum members do not get the blood, the local hospital systems do.

Even I could afford that. For those who could not give blood for whatever reason, Quorum was willing to sell the prints for cash -- around $300, or the price of a pint of blood on the open market at the time.

"The process of making art and just living as an artist, I mean, we feel like we're giving blood, that's part of our soul, that's part of us, it's our blood. And so we wanted to give something to the community, to people, but ask for something equally precious from other people," one of the artists told Studio 360.

Ideally, the pint of blood, and the giving of it, is a part of the art. It's a great stunt, but I can't help thinking that the purity of the exchange gets watered down in all of Quorum's talk about Hurricane Katrina and blood shortages. That, of course, is the goal: to raise awareness about the need for blood donation. But ironically, it also makes the fact that you can give your dark red blood, something we need for survival, something as fundamentally animal as this, for a piece of art, less compelling.

Focus back on the life-giving properties, and the fact that real people will be healed or helped by the blood -- your blood -- and it gains strength again. But not as much strength as the idea of simply bleeding for art, for a commodity. I know, I know, I'm trying to make socially conscious art less social and more art. How irresponsible.

Still, I think that the whole structure of donation-for-a-good-cause should be a footnote in order to preserve the creepy, base power of the exchange.

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