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The Peter Norton Christmas Project Teacup: What’s the Real Meaning of Perfect Condition?

Peter Norton Christmas Project

Robert Lazzarini (American, b. 1965) Norton Christmas Project/Teacup, 2003, Est. $200-300

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!”

Peter Norton Christmas Project, Teacup

The intentional chip on the rim of the teacup

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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2 thoughts on “The Peter Norton Christmas Project Teacup: What’s the Real Meaning of Perfect Condition?

  1. I’ve been on the mailing list for the Norton Christmas Project since the early 1990’s, so I have this tea cup and it’s one of my favorites. Here’s my take: as an artist, I think that instead of taking their cue from the people who create the art (the artists), the “art world” (collectors, curators, appraisers) has gotten too caught up in the curator’s, collector’s and appraiser’s definition of what art should be and what makes it valuable, or less valuable. Here’s the perfect example: One of my dealers requested some prints of mine to do a presentation to a museum curator. I sent the prints. He called a few days later to let me know that he’d received them, but he was worried becaue one of the prints had my fingerprint on the backside of the paper. Now mind you, this was the BACK of the paper and once the piece was framed by the museum for display, the finerprint would not be seen at all and did not affect the front of the piece in any way. He asked if I could change it out for another one explaining that curators can be nit-picky about this kind of thing. I was dumbfounded, because as an artist I saw that fingerprint in printing ink on the backside of the paper as evidence of the creative process; a part of the piece being handmade and not machine made. In my mind, who on earth would refuse a Picasso painting just because his fingerprint, in paint, was on the back of the stretcher bar? For me, it’s about the beauty of a work of art and the artist’s intent and if an object that an artist made becomes chipped because someone loved it enough to actually live with that piece in their surroundings, then oh well, life happens and I don’t think a chip makes something less valuable.

    I can’t believe that the collector you referred to has been keeping his tea cup in a box. Mine sits out on full display all times on my flat files and because of that, I’m fully aware that a day may come when it may actually get chipped or worse, broken, but it’s easier for me to live with that risk than live with the idea of keeping a work of art that the artist intended to be viewed, boxed and locked away.

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