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THE NEXT 7 DAYS:     EVENTS (20)     +     OPENINGS (2)     +     DEADLINES (9)     +     CLOSINGS (14)
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Steven Leyden Cochrane
Collin Zipp at Martha Street Studio, Winnipeg
September 08, 2015

You wouldn’t download a Van Gogh. Art theft: it’s a crime. In certain key ways, Collin Zipp’s Recent Acquisitions, which opened last Friday at Martha Street Studio, embodies the spirit of an Internet meme: its abrupt, artless delivery belies complex, subtle, self-reflexive humour. Puckishly and not un-problematically blurring Martha Street’s focus on printmaking, the show comprises eleven near-identical, hand-painted copies of a single, stolen Van Gogh still life – Poppy Flowers, ca. 1887, missing since 2010 from Cairo’s Mohamed Mahmoud Kahlil Museum. Zipp commissioned the paintings online from a Chinese workshop.

Left: Collin Zipp, Poppy Flowers, 2014
Right: Vincent Van Gogh, Poppy Flowers, 1887

As a conceptual exercise, Acquisitions is terse and tidy, adding a few new flourishes to appropriation art’s careworn critique of authorship and deepening some of the creases. On paper, we get a workmanlike rehashing of Sherrie Levine’s rereading of Duchamp, one informed by Conceptual Art’s “managerial” sensibilities and magnified through the outsourced lens of contemporary global capitalism. However, as a brick-and-mortar exhibition of IRL oil paintings, the effect is just as “meta” but also, pleasantly, messier and less mean. Zipp ordered eleven copies, one for each of the Egyptian culture ministry employees arrested in a presumptive show of face-saving accountability theatre following the heist. The tangential reference leads us back to the literal theft behind Zipp’s appropriation, the real people swept up in it, and the actual, absent original.

The new copies were made from emailed JPEGs, and any trace “aura” of the stolen painting would have been buffed out in the back-and-forth. One hardly misses it. The last legit Van Gogh most Winnipeggers saw was a dreary and not dissimilar still life included in the WAG’s 100 Masters exhibition a few years back. Zipp’s honest forgeries might not be “as good,” but they’re certainly nice enough – reproductions, sure, perfunctory perhaps, but hardly “mechanical” and I’d guess a fair bit cheaper than $50 million to acquire.

The anonymous painter or painters’ brushwork is lively, proficient, and economical, the painted surfaces untroubled and thin (thinner still for being shipped from China in cardboard tubes). Moving down the line, it’s both easy and rewarding to get swept up in small differences – a subtly varied approach to yellows, especially festive bits of greenery. “Aura” comes sauntering back, casually justifying the business model behind on-demand oil painting.

Of course the exhibition raises questions of attribution and exploitation, but Zipp’s honest forgeries do more to highlight North America’s inconsistent and selectively applied “concerns” about overseas manufacturing. Here he points the finger at himself as much as anyone, but he gently implicates us all. More than thirty years after After Walker Evans and nearly a century post-Fountain, he positions himself as a convincing and good-natured standard bearer for Duchamp’s long troll.

Martha Street Studio:
Collin Zipp: Recent Acquisitions continues until October 14.

Steven Leyden Cochrane is an artist, writer, and educator based in Winnipeg, where he contributes weekly exhibition reviews to the Free Press. He is Akimbo’s Winnipeg correspondent and can be followed @svlc_ on Twitter.



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