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.


  1. Patrick says

    The New York art world is brutal. That said he sounds like a coward, afraid of his own craft. Get down to business and make some art man.

  2. Sergio says

    Cue the people saying that modern art “is an abomination”, “my child could do better than that”, et cetera. Modern art isn’t perfect, but it sure beats a world of nothing but Harry Potter, Wal-Mart, and fart jokes.

  3. tinkerbelle says

    Jeez, this is nothing new. Marcel Duchamp put a urinal in a gallery in 1917, called it “La fontaine” (the fountain) and made history. Art is what you make it, and it’s not sold by weight, by the yard or by how much time was involved. That makes Hannaham’s statement totally legit. You don’t have to love it, but it does make you think.

  4. Håkon says

    The true tragedy of modern art is just how much money is involved in the enterprise. If artists could create their works without the influence of bored capitalists indulging their collection itches, the art might regain some measure of actual value.

  5. UFFDA says

    This is delicious. As an artist who believes in the well-made and well-designed object – and does quite well, thank you – I am acutely aware of the irrelevance of both skill and talent in our time in the circles of “high art”.

    In the 70’s a man enlisted a photographer to document cutting off his penis one quarter of an inch at a time until he had none. This is true and it was called art. The critics who close rank around such things (and so much more) should be tethered to a chain and dropped in the sea. Hannaham is helping to do just that – and you bet they’re scared.

  6. MikeC says

    Know what’s crazy? If you google your statement “photographer to document cutting off his penis one quarter of an inch at a time”, the very first link leads to a scholarly essay debunking this myth.

    Though I take your broader point, and agree with it.

  7. Paul R says

    Yeah, the penis thing never happened, and of course Dada and other movements have been asking what art is for a long time. Warhol did the same thing with soup cans; plenty of others have made similar efforts. About 10 years ago, SFMOMA had an exhibit that gave away thousands of B&W poster size prints of an artist’s photo as part of an effort to de-commodotize art. And the list goes on.

    That said, this “exhibit” is amusing and well written, and I won’t be remotely surprised when the placards are sold—given that they’re obviously the art.

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