Gay Artist James Hannaham Trolls Art World With Wry ‘Card Tricks’ Exhibition


To celebrate their 100th issue, the weekly online fiction magazine Recommended Reading held an art exhibition entitled Card Tricks featuring nonexistent artworks and wry commentary by gay artist and writer James Hannaham.

The aforementioned “trick” was that visitors who entered the James Cohan Gallery in Chelsea only saw bare walls with small placards next to each of Hannaham’s nonexistent pieces.” One such piece had two just scraps of notebook paper taped to the wall. Another claimed the entire world as a piece of “found art.” One placard for a piece called "Squinting Person" was posted above eye-level and printed in tiny, hard-to-read type. Another placard just featured the artist's name printed over and over and over again. Yet another called "Weather" was just a window.

On the placards themselves were Hannaham’s wry observations about the pretentious, fleeting self-importance of modern art. On an aforementioned piece called “Some Crazy Bullshit,” Hannaham's placard read:

Galleries and auction houses must regularly explain to collectors the significance and importance of many modern works of art in order to legitimize the massive amounts of capital necessary to acquire them them, and to reassure investors that these artworks will appreciate in value.

There seems no more threatening idea to the power structures and financial concerns of the art world than the danger that an artist might pass off an impromptu piece of crap as masterpiece. With 2012’s “Some Crazy Bulls–t,” Hannaham gives form to the art world’s worst bugaboo by Scotch taping two pieces of torn notebooks paper to the gallery wall, a process that took maybe two seconds.

He claims to have no rationale, inspiration, hidden motivation, or ideological justification for this act whatsoever. Even so, in this work Hannaham throws aside all codified notions of artistic merit and craft, including the conceptual requirement inherent in the phrase “conceptual art.”

Despite his assertions, the gesture still represents a challenge to institutions and individuals who claim to champion artistic freedom despite the many types of control that these gatekeepers actually enforce on artists and artistic production, including notions of “talent,” “effort,” and “quality.”

The show was edited by Jennifer Egan, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of the 2011 book A Visit From The Goon Squad. To see the rest of Hannaham’s exhibition, go here.