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Can Shopping Count as Art? Or Is This Guy Just Pompous?

An economics lesson in adding value: who will pay $400 for this "Upside Down Can of Coke... brown liquid in red and white aluminum container."


From the man who traded a paper clip for a house, we're going to learn how to get someone to pay $400 for a can of coke: Stick a label on it that says "Upside Down Can of Coke... brown liquid in red and white aluminum container," call it art, and give it a narrative. Will it work? For art's sake, I hope not. But it's a good lesson in business.

Kyle McDonald says he took cash advances on his credit cards, pulled in a few cohorts, and spent almost $20,000 to buy out every single item in a New York bodega. McDonald tells GOOD, "we're not exactly not sure what we're trying to say. We just wanted to try this." He's selling the purchased items at extreme markups starting tonight in the Fusion Arts Museum in New York, and in the process asking what someone is really paying for when they buy a mass-produced product. He's also really shoving the hollowness of this kind of concept art in people's faces.

Seem pompous and silly? It is. And McDonald knows it, at least the silly part.

"This is probably one of the stupidest things any of us have ever done," McDonald says. He doesn't actually expect to make his money back, but hopes to break even. "The intention is to sell things off slowly, and do interesting things with them and see what happens." You can, however, buy him out of everything he bought for the bargain price of $2 million, in a brash act of neoduchampian oneupsmanship, or whatever you're supposed to call something that absurd.

Nobody will pay that of course, but theoretically, of the $2 million, half would go to the seemingly charming Hercules, owner of the original bodega—see video above—to help him save his store, which is slated to go out of business this week. The artists were kind enough to pick a shop where a total buyout would have an especially positive impact. Shelves filled with irony could actually hurt business for someone trading on the convenience of his store.

The humble storefront is frequently fodder for art, as workshop, as venue, or more engagingly with shopdropping, as a point of subversion or disruptive "consumer mutineering." McDonald's expertise though, isn't in commentary or statement, it's in experimenting as guinea pig, and in executing absurdity. He did, after all, barter his way from a red paperclip to a house, a wonderful exercise in exploiting scarcity.

He describes this project, 'Bodega Boutique, the art of convenience' as an "adventure in how value can be created or perceived." Can something worth $1 in Hercules Fancy Grocery fetch $400 a few blocks away—and if so, why? That's the experiment. If it works, it will be slightly depressing to think that society values McDonald's can of coke 400 times more than humble Hercules'. But at the same time, the project does raise a valid question: What adds value to a good?

Public policy planners would love to more precisely assess how much value is added to a product each time it is bought, modified, and sold, mainly so they can tax it. And while art may be a special case, McDonald is selling consumer products you can get anywhere. The only thing the buyer gets is the story, the narrative, the experience. If anyone bites, we'll get to see how much those intangibles are worth.

Via Viveca.

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