Purchasing Intangibles: MoMA

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MoMA is pioneering the latest art establishment encroahment on anti-establishment art: the purchasing of intangibles.

Spearheading their efforts in the field of performance art is Chief curator at large, Klaus Biesenback, a colorful character whose famously spare apartment was recently featured in W magazine.

In June 2008, under Biesenback’s guidance, MoMA purchased Tino Sehgal’s “Kiss” , a performance piece of subtle intricacy that was, until this purchase, only passed on by word of mouth and hands on (as it were) demonstration: from dancer to dancer.

Question: So how did they “buy” it?
Answer: by spoken contract.

Tino Sehgal described the piece to a MoMA curator; the MoMA curator passed it on. Along with the purchase of the spoken legacy, the MoMA also purchased reproduction rights. Save for the contracts, MoMA has succeded in purchasing something utterly intangible.

So far two other museums have purchased “The Kiss,” and The Tate, in London, and the Walker Art Center, in Minneapolis, are also grappling with new ways to save and sustain ephemeral and intangible arts.

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“Online comments at MoMA’s site were fast and curious, ranging from “neat” and “cool” to “intellectual garbage,” “I’m mystified,” “pretentious nonsense,” and suspicions that the announcement was an early April Fools’ joke. Some of those in the “neat” and “cool” camp even proposed acquiring “e” and “ñ,” while the art blog Hyperallergic reported that the Chinese government had taken possession of the rest of the keyboard.”

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