Here are some excerpts from my original tumblr blog, involving my reflections and reading on the economic aspects Christian Marclay's The Clock. How was it created? Just how is it bought and sold? Who paid the living expenses of the artist and his assistants during the creation? Why is it show in museums and galleries, rather than in public places? Why are there usually long lines? These questions were on my mind as I traveled to Toronto in October 2012 in an attempt to view "the entire thing" in four days. This is a seletion of my posts in which I pondered these issues.

How much does it cost?

So how much does “The Clock” cost? Apparently the work is purchased by the Museums that show it, and at least in Los Angeles, the price is $467,500…

But individual donors also stepped forward to fund particular artworks that moved them. With Marclay’s “The Clock,” Hollywood film producer and New York Giants Chairman Steve Tiscch, who became a LACMA trustee last year, pledged the $467,500 needed to buy the work before voting began.

Source: Los Angeles Times

What does it mean to buy a copy?

So I’m figuring a “purchase” of The Clock for (in round numbers) a half-million bucks involves a lot more than buying a set of DVDs, more even than buying a custom hard-drive with the entire 24 hour movie loaded onto it, together with computer-controlled projection system with custom software to make sure the move is always synced up with the best locally available time server. No, I’m sure there are lawyers involved.  I’m sure that when a museum (or group of museums, see below) “purchases” The Clock, they’re signing a very long contract that spells out in some detail the performance rights,  which almost certainly do not include DVD sales.  There may be geographic limitations, both on the museums and on the artist (I’ll bet the museums can show the piece only in specified venues, and the artist may agree not to sell another copy to anyone else within a certain geographic range.)  Just guessing on that part. The artist may also specify that the piece needs to be shown in darkened rooms, with seating, rather than on video monitors in the general gallery. Also guessing on that part.

So it turns out that the “copy” (should we say “version” or “instance” ??) to be shown at The Power Plant in Toronto isn’t actually owned by The Power Plant, which shouldn’t be too surprising, since the Power Plant is collection-less gallery, an art space, a venue.  So anyway, here’s the footer on the Power Plant’s The Clock page:

Organized by the National Gallery of Canada
Purchased in 2011 with the generous support of Jay Smith and Laura Rapp, and Carol and Morton Rapp, Toronto. Jointly owned by the National Gallery of Canada and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Which makes sense, since Wikipedia reports that The Clock was in Boston from September to December 2011, and at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa roughly from April through July of this year.  If some of the donors who put up the money actually live in Toronto, it’s not surprising that it would make it’s way to a gig in Toronto.


The Budget

Marclay’s budget exceeded a hundred thousand dollars. White Cube’s signature artist is Damien Hirst—a man who has made a diamond-encrusted skull—so Marclay’s sum seemed comparatively paltry. Moreover, the cost would be partially covered by Paula Cooper Gallery, which would show the video in New York

Okay, now we’re getting close to the actual economics of creation. How the artist survived during the creation of the work, how the assistants were paid.  As someone who works at an art college, these are burning issues.  How do these big international art projects get made?


The Assistants

At Marclay’s request, White Cube posted a “Help Wanted” sign at Today is Boring, a cinéaste redoubt on Kingsland Road. Six young people were hired to watch DVDs and rip digital copies of any scene showing a clock or alluding to the time. (Sophia Loren to Marlon Brando: “I can’t appear at eleven o’clock in the morning in an evening dress!”) Files were logged with search-friendly titles: “1124—kid waiting on streets/old man checks watch—Paper Moon.”

Right.  This is what I’m interested in. What the assistants did. How they were hired. What they were paid to do.

Still, he didn’t want to outsource its construction, in the manner of Jeff Koons or Takashi Murakami. Marclay believes that “art is all in the details,” and so he committed to handling what mattered most: the editing. The key to his video projects, he believed, was the artfulness of the transitions, which reassured the viewer that a tactical intelligence controlled the flow of imagery. He also felt that the clock video would not cast a spell if it had the blunt cuts of its Internet cousins—those “supercut” compilations of Hollywood clichés, such as action heroes deadpanning, “We’ve got company.” He wanted his supercut to emulate the rhythms of a Hollywood feature. Others could collect the thread, but Marclay would weave the tapestry.

Okay.  So the assistants did the ripping and Marclay did the editing. We’ll accept this as fact until evidence to the contrary appears.


The Conditions of Display

When I speculated that the artist was controlling the conditions of display, I guess I was correct…

At the risk of seeming difficult, he wanted the video to be shown exactly as he’d planned it, down to the IKEA couches. “The Clock” was a twenty-four-hour video with a twenty-four-page instruction manual. “Venerable museums are acting like greedy kids,” he said at one point. “There’s a lack of scholarship. It’s all about how many people they can get through the doors. How to preserve it, how to give it the best possible presentation—that doesn’t matter. They just want a hit.”


Well, This is Disappointing: Fancy Screen Saver

The one thing I had been hoping was that Christian Marclay wouldn’t allow this to happen:

 “The Clock” had certainly made Marclay wealthier: five copies, intended for museums, were being sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars, and the sixth had been sold to Steven A. Cohen, the Connecticut hedge-fund manager, for an undisclosed sum. (Cohen started showing the work on a monitor in his office, as if it were a fancy screen saver.)

So rich guys can have this on a computer screen? Or just one rich guy, who happened to come up with the cash when Marclay and the galleries who supported him (White Cube in London and Paula Cooper in New York) really needed it?


Bizarre Footnote

At the end of Daniel Zalewski’s excellent and thorough profile on Christian Marclay, there’s this bizarre footnote:

MOMA acquired a copy of “The Clock” for its permanent collection. It did not buy one, as originally stated.

Please, somebody from MOMA, clarify. What, exactly, is the difference between “acquire” and “buy”? And why does it matter so much to MOMA to make this pedantic distinction?


The First Five Copies

So I’m getting a clearer picture of just how the economics of The Clock work.  Later on I’ll be reflecting on what it all means, but for now I’ll just try to get the facts straight:

According to Wikipedia:

The Clock has been sold to several art museums. The work owned by the New York collectors Jill and Peter Kraus, is a promised gift to the Museum of Modern Art.[6] In 2011, Steve Tisch pledged the $467,500 needed to buy the work for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.[7] One month later, the National Gallery of Canada and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, announced the acquisition of another copy. In February 2012, yet another version was acquired jointly by the Tate in London, the Centre Pompidou in Paris, and the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.[8]

According to The New Yorker:

“The Clock” had certainly made Marclay wealthier: five copies, intended for museums, were being sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars, and the sixth had been sold to Steven A. Cohen, the Connecticut hedge-fund manager, for an undisclosed sum. (Cohen started showing the work on a monitor in his office, as if it were a fancy screen saver.)

That means six copies altogether, right? So The Clock, although it’s a digital artwork, capable of nearly infinite perfect reproductions, is being sold as limited edition print.  Very limited edition. Through my web research, I have a pretty good idea of where those six copies went:

 1/6: Steven A. Cohen, undisclosed amount.

 2/6: Jill and Peter Kraus, promised gift to MOMA

 3/6 Los Angeles County Museum, with $467,500 pledged by Steve Tisch

 4/6 National Gallery of Canada and Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (“Purchased in 2011 with the generous support of Jay Smith and Laura Rapp, and Carol and Morton Rapp, Toronto. Jointly owned by the National Gallery of Canada and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston”)

 5/6 The Tate, London, the Centre Pompidou in Paris and the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

 6/6 ?????

My research so far shows that one copy remains unaccounted for.  The Clock has been shown in Australia and Japan, as well as in Venice, but the Yokohama exhibition was a trienniale, and Venice the Biennale, and the Australian museum’s web page shows no indication of sponsorship or ownership.

So if we take the one disclosed price ($467,500) as typical, we’re looking at total gross sale of in the range $2-3 million. Maybe if the last copy sells for a higher price, the gross could go over $3 million. Not bad for brand new work of contemporary art, but minuscule for a movie that has people lining up for hours.

Incidentally, the Wikipedia mention of the MOMA sheds some light on the distinction between “acquire” and “buy.” If the collector buys the piece, then donates it to the museum, or entrusts it to the museum’s care with an agreement to donate it at some time in the future, that’s “acquiring” a work of art (as in the MOMA case).  If a high-net-worth individual pledges a donation to the Museum contingent upon the Museum purchasing a certain work of art, that would be called “buying” (as in the LACMA case).

The Line

Having just the other night stood in line for 90 minutes to see The Clock, which cost me the opportunity to “see the entire thing,” I thought I’d reflect a bit on the economics of lines.

Some market theorists (particularly those with lots of money) denounce lines as inefficient, and say everything should be allocated by price,  Prices, they say, if set up cleverly enough, can eliminate lines entirely and maximize both attendance and revenue streams. In response, I would argue that lines are perfectly valid method for allocate scarce resources.  It’s a method that favors those willing to spend time, rather than money. 

And I would argue that Christian Marclay knew exactly what he was doing when he insisted that The Clock be shown for free, in smallish dark rooms, rather than in pricey simulcasts at the multiplexes (like the Metropolitan Opera), or say, some kind of synchronized subscription streaming over the internet. To see The Clock, you have to invest time. You have to go to a particular place and sit in a dark room with people you don’t know. You have to give up some of your autonomy and become part of an audience.

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