publication of the International Sculpture Center
Cultural Value: A Conversation with Toland Grinnell
by Ana Finel Honigman
to Contents page>
240, 2002. Mixed media, 79 x 25 x 25 in.
that the superfluous is a very necessary thing. The most luxurious
items are necessitiesa shoe, a shirt, a handbagtransformed
into the seemingly superfluous, making them essential elements of elite
consumer vocabulary. Toland Grinnell uses this vocabulary in sculptures
that simultaneously mirror and subvert consumer desire. His sculptures
are thoroughbreds. They fit perfectly into stylish homes yet are hardly
trivial decorations. Grinnell creates cocktails of leather, gold, horses,
labels, fetishes, and the hedonism of libertine aristocratic yearnings.
Accessibility and exclusivity intersect in his sculpture to cover hot
desires with a cold gloss, providing commentary on affluent excess while
satisfying its timeless lusts.
Ana Finel Honigman:
What do you consider the most relevant, honest relationship between artists
Collector is an attractive euphemism for consumer. Art today
comes and goes. There is no master dialogue or narrative that defines
important meaning. The stuff thats going to stay from
my generation will need to address consumers for who they aresomeone
whos possibly interested. Art is a marketplace with two groups:
shoppers and window shoppers. Most people are window shoppers. Im
a window shopper. Yet, the people who buy art appear to have less power
than the people who shop but dont buy. Still, its a princely
environment regardless of outward appearances. The super-privileged are
the fuel that makes the entire machine functionnot the proletariat.
I aim to reference good, high-quality, use-friendly design.
I try to create stuff
that mirrors 21st-century desires. To me, art functions like everything
else. The boundaries are different but not the rules. Maybe thats
the single biggest difference between me and most other artists.
AFH: The blatant
relationship between academia and art is accepted, but the inevitable
merger between art and commerce is usually perceived as ugly and corrupt.
You appear to slice through this territory with no qualms. What do you
perceive as academias relationship to art versus the art market?
for Living, 2001. Mixed media, view of trunk in closed position.
museums and dealers have made peace with the bottom-line realities of
how our marketplace works. But often, art-world figures with their hands
on the levers of power were indoctrinated in the 60s art systemwhen
arts function was to evoke social change. Some of these are people
who just recently bought cell phones and dont yet know how to use
the speed dial. They are still trying to impose rules and expectations
on art from a system I didnt participate in at all and which no
longer really exists. They expect me and the younger generation to which
I belong to be part of this continuum. To me, its irrational and
lazy at its core.
AFH: Is this
continuum set in the auction houses? Where do academia, criticism, and
museums fit into the art continuum?
is no real divide among art, academia, and the market. There are no separations
between peoples functions. Its one whole. If, as a critic,
you dont like a certain artists paintings, you dont
review the work; but if suddenly that work starts commanding major prices,
you start reviewing it anyway, because inevitably that artist will become
part of the perpetual art landscape. It is unavoidable. This doesnt
mean that people are unethicalit just means that the product and
all of the activities surrounding it are integrated. Eventually the discussion
has to catch up to the day-to-day environment. Willingly or not. Art enjoys
its crumbling designation as a thing outside the constrictions
and tendencies of the real world, but the last 10 years of
art history have proven that this thing is shaping up to act more and
more like the older version of itself. In the older version, artists acted
as cultural illustrators and independent contractors, executing commissions
from wealthy patrons. Like a machine re-tooling itself in the night to
go from OS X back to OS 5.1, we are quickly revisiting the time of the
Medici as artmakers.
about Earthworks and performance art, which have a limited relationship
to the art market but influence art practice and critical response?
TG: I am not
particularly interested in art that changes the way art functions. I dont
care about Earthworks. That was 1967, and I wasnt born yet. I dont
think a bunch of hippies renting bulldozers in Texas is relevant to me
today. Their spirit may be inspirational. Those art practices were mythologized,
but there is really nothing left of them other than poor-quality photos.
I am principally interested in art and artists that change the way the
market and its peripheral entities function. I am interested in artists
who are going to change the way people (and I mean all people) look and
feel about art. Earthworks are ultimately a specialty
or boutique art form.
AFH: So for
you there is no honest divide between art as concept and art as commodity?
for Living, 2001. Mixed media, view of trunk in open position.
things arent like church and statethat is so fucking old-sounding.
Art is a commodity just like science is a commodity. Art is a functioning
thing. It is a necessary part of our cultural landscape. Art is a form
of entertainment. There is a retarded misconception about where value
lies today from within the art community. The function of art is to find
value and I dont just mean moneyI mean cultural value. The
value of art can be discussed in many ways, but its function is to define
cultural value. And by defining this cultural value, it describes
what is important to us conceptually and emotionally. Art that cant
seriously define its value is left to either the specialists or the waste-bin.
AFH: Do you
feel that todays art-world fashions are apt representatives of our
era? Will they translate historically?
TG: In 10
years I doubt anyone will give a fuck about some show at the Whitney.
These shows simply do not participate substantially in the real world.
The show might generate momentary rhetoric, and in a postmodern world
all one really gets is moment to moment, but I dont think a lot
of longevity is built into the current curatorial system. Theres
a battle going on between finding operating revenue and curatorial
responsibility. No one from my generation is going
to really win with this on the horizon. There needs to be resolution and
evolution on everyones part.
about artists such as Jeff Koons, Mark Kostabi, Tom Sachs, or the YBAs
who play, feed, and breed off of arts relationship to consumer desire?
What is their role in terms of re-establishing the artists place
in consumer culture?
Sachs, Kostabi, Schnabel, and Koons do a brilliant job of delivering information
thats external to the product they manufacture. Theyre able
to transmit this extra information in a way that affects peoples
perception of their work. Inherently, this upsets the cognoscenti of the
art world, but amazingly it increases their bottom line.
might be momentary media interest in Mark Kostabi as a personality, but
do you think there will be historical interest in Kostabi as an artist?
TG: No, but
there is a desire to know more about the background of Kostabi. Every
long-running sit-com eventually makes an episode in which one character
miraculously becomes an art star. The idea of the artist as
a huckster/genius is perpetually fascinating to people. Koons and others
have used this as a tool to help create meaning.
as a success manual?
Pen Set for George Lindemann, 2003. Fabric, hardware, vinyl, and
wood, 37 x 49 x 30 in., and 24 x 30 x 21 in.
TG: You might
be right, but I think that arts narrative structure has largely
disintegrated. Stories about peoples motivations are always interesting.
Stories add to and support our enjoyment of all types of cultural products.
I dont think that the art product today is inherently interesting.
It is not packaged with a greater vision of how the artist is functioning
in relation to everything else or where the artist will be in 20 years.
There is no point investing in a product that will not be here in short
order. Little of the work created by artists between 25 to 35 promises
to be interesting in 10 years. Puff Daddy, Donna Karan, and Philippe Starck
will continually morph, redefine, and diversify themselves in a way that
will be interesting over time to lots of people. Art? No.
AFH: Is academic
discourse useless or just not as relevant as claimed?
TG: What frustrates
me about the art dialogue and art schoolsreally trade schoolsis
that there isnt a real discussion about art history or art in terms
that direct students to how they can enter the art dialogue. Artists and
art lovers are trained to be dropped off at the last station
that art created on the line to infinity. All these kids in art school
are looking to create new work, but they are being dropped off where art
you say that Postmodernist theory functions in the art world because it
allows for a seemingly endless array of historical and contemporary combinations
and comparisons without real innovation?
TG: It works
because of an antiquated set of systems still in place. Curating a museum
showdemanding that somebody create a group of potential meanings
and turn them into a cohesive exhibition that is unusually relevantis
difficult and in the case of younger art it often translates into temporary.
The machine of art has set up a moment-to-moment dialogue. Its a
system of meaning allowing only for new and improved versions
of itself. Thats why Postmodernism works, and why Modernism doesnt
work. Modernism was a system that suggested a beginning (of something)
followed by a splintering or dissecting of the thing into increasingly
smaller fragments until you couldnt find the thing anymoreit
was a method of specialization and ultimately miniaturization. Postmodernism
is like a color copy machine with a zoom feature.
in your work is overt, even outside its art-world value. Whereas other
artists might reference consumer desire, your work succeeds at stimulating
is one of the things that make my sculpture different for people. The
craftsmanship is overt, as is the amount of money it appears to be worth.
When you over-ornamentalize something with hardware it could potentially
detract from the meaning, but it heightens the sense of security. I learned
that nailing down the leather is better than sewing it because you become
conscious of the points of closure. By the time Ive added 31,000
gold nails, the psychological impact is infinitely more severe than if
it were sewn closed.
AFH: You created
a series of opulent model homes for hamsters. These are animals that amass,
categorize, and horde their possessions. How do you link their
instinctual relationship to their stuff with our consumer fetishism?
Bedroom, 200102. Mixed media, dimensions variable.
TG: The animalstheyre
rats really: purebred ratsappear messy but are honestly compulsive
separators and organizers. Observing this habit in pet stores and at my
nieces house inspired me to think about animal instinct. I am always
obsessed with things manmade. Mostly, I prefer a cityscape to the country,
but through observation I realized that these animals act just like us.
You dont want a Mercedes with a Mercedes sound systemyou want
a Mercedes with Mackintosh system. You dont want to sit down in
a restaurant near the bathroom or the kitchenyou want to sit down
where you only think about eating. These separations are animal. The hamster
trunks, even many of the human works, deal with the idea of
confronting the animal/flaw buried within.
AFH: Is art
that replicates our imperfection or fallibility inherently more desirable
than art, perhaps like Minimalism, that mocks it?
that is how I look at it: whatever is overtly ornamental or dealt with
in an ornamental way helps to separate us from the animals. In that way,
my work is closer to eroticism than sex for procreation. When I craft
something in the studio, I make it out of the best possible materials
to the highest level of quality. I want to make things that peoples
grandkids arent going to throw away. Passing things from generation
to generation is a totally lost ideal today.
do you consider the role and impact of conceptualism or art intended to
serve as a didactic illustration of theory?
TG: The real
threat to art today isnt contemporary pseudo-conceptual art practice
but the general sophistication and access to cool shit on the part of
consumers of culture. There is a lot of cool stuff out there, and art
just isnt that cool when you make a side-by-side comparison. Part
of the reason why art from the 70s can do so well at auction is
that it was made before the culture factory started co-opting
or lifting conceptually and aesthetically from visual art. This stuff
is sort of pre-pillage, therefore solid. Later, art starts to be encroached
upon by other stuff. It is not clear whether art will be the winner at
the end of the next decade or so.
AFH: But art
has a different function than just cool shit.
it does. Abstraction was a metaphoric understanding of how psychology
was incorporated into the cultures waking environment. Visual art
during the first half of the 20th century assisted in the general publics
understanding of abstraction as real and acceptable. Whether or not viewers
thought their kid could paint just like Picasso, the simple fact that
smarter, better-educated people thought Picasso was a genius inspired
cultures recognition of the system of abstraction and we are all
better for it. Today, art is not changing the world, science and technology
are. There is no inherent reason why art should be present other than
for some of the traditional values it carries.
about arts role in attracting critical and subjective attention
to socio-cultural realities?
TG: That is
not necessarily the sole nature of art, thats just part of 60s
art dialogue that has roots back to the great freedom fights in the 18th
and 19th centuries. Social cause is one reason to make art, but its
not the only reason.
AFH: All right,
forget socio-cultural realities, what about arts role in attracting
attention to concepts without a direct commercial function or purpose?
TG: The manifestation
of an idea is infinitely more entertaining and impacting than the representation
of an idea. Most people today have more of a relationship to sculpture
through shopping than through art education. People understand stuff by
going to stores, they dont understand stuff by going to Socrates
Sculpture Park and contemplating an art book. They understand stuff through
consuming. Thats real.
are the consequences of art just having its dialogue with art?
Bed (Small, Brown and Orange), 2003. Fabric, hardware, leather,
vinyl, and wood, 12 x 25 x 20 in.
is obviously a place for this kind of work. Its important in an
academic way. Miles Davis practiced scales every day, right? But commercial
concerns have been trying to gobble up art, from fashion companies to
Philip Morristhey all want to strategically ally themselves with
art. Unless art is more sophisticated, it will merely become the temporary
financial subsidiary of massive corporations. In order to survive, art
needs to make stuff that really competes. Consumer products are about
people and their desires, art considers itself above peoplewhich
is its mistake.
do you consider the most relevant impetus for continuing to create art?
TG: The only
reason to be an artist today is to do what you feel like doing. There
is no movement, no continuum to ride in on and float perpetually. Artists
are victim to shifts in the marketplace. Traditionally one way to combat
these shifts was to stake as big a claim as possible to a style or materials.
Today, Im not even sure if thats good enough. A lot of young
artists try and diversify, but hedging your bet only works if it all ties
together, functions, and pays the rent. If it isnt cohesive, like
a companys governing principle, it doesnt work. Since most
artists are not that interesting, there is no inherent interest to all
their diverse art-making. We are living in the era that Barbara Kruger
and the 80s artists tried to foresee. Todays artists are actually
living inside the postmodern world, not looking at it from a short distance.
The lesson that one saw coming 10 years ago is the lesson that art is
going to have to learn to compete with the rest of the world.
AFH: Is art
only supposed to inspire desire? The socially conscious art of the past
30 years was intended to inspire other emotionsanger, consolation,
outrage, or guilt. Are those emotions equally valid responses to successful
TG: What makes
art profoundly important is the secret narrative inside each works
prescribed agenda. There is the surface meaning and then the sub-surface
meaning. This is how we examine Old Master painting and sculpture today.
The result lets art assert a real sense of beauty as philosophy, because
its meaning is layered and not integrated in a form-follows-function way.
This system allowed two audiences to view the artwork in their own wayssurface
and sub-surface. Some art of the last 75 years works like this, but most
of it lost interest in the layperson or the non-specialist, focusing instead
on an insider-only track. I try to make things that solicit questions
from the viewer, but I dont want them to start with What is
it? or What does this mean? I want them to start with,
I know what this means
oh wait, I might be wrong.
Ana Finel Honigman
is a writer currently based in Great Britain.