This odd riff on a teacup caught my eye while on a house call. It was engaging, distorted; a contemporary artist’s take on a boring, mid-20th century “antique.”
“But look” I pointed out, “It’s chipped!”
A chip is the kiss of death for a piece of porcelain.
The collector was shocked. He told me “It can’t be. I’ve never had it out of the box. Let me do some research.” I took the piece back to Skinner for consignment, figuring that even a chipped work of contemporary art was interesting.
The consignor called the next day, laughing. “The cup was chipped on purpose: the artist had it made that way!”
Teacup by Robert Lazzarini is part of the Norton Christmas Project, a series of art objects given as gifts by the Norton Family Trust. Each year since 1988 Peter Norton has commissioned an artist to create an editioned work to send out as a gift, rather than sending a holiday card. Most of these pieces have been made by celebrated artists who are already represented in Mr. Norton’s own collection, and many have since become stars of the contemporary art world. Teacup was the 2003 Peter Norton Christmas gift.
Lazzarini’s simple move to place a chip on the rim of Teacup turns our usual way of thinking about art and antiques on its head. It’s like the artist knew that someday an appraiser would pick up his piece, and mark down the value because of that chip. It’s a statement that calls into question the tried and true methods of determining value.
Several of the collectible pieces from the Norton Christmas Project are represented in the September 9th American & European Works of Art auction at Skinner. Bowl with Hands by Do-Ho Suh is a glass bowl with the shapes of hands imprinted in the bottom, so that when you hold the piece from the bottom, it appears to be melting over your hands. Rainbow by Peter Coffin is a paper construction combining many photographs of rainbows into a spiral, and Doll House by Yinka Shonibare is exactly that – a small doll house approximately the size of a sheet of computer paper.
All of these objects are interesting, but the teacup especially makes me wonder about what perfect condition means when it comes to art. Can a chip be a desirable part of a piece of artwork? Can it be beautiful? What’s your take?
Norton Christmas Project Items in the September 9th Fine Art Auction
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