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CURRENT COLUMN

The Case of Dubious Due Diligence

The Case of Dubious Due Diligence

The Case of the Olympic Posters
The Case of the Olympic Posters

The Case of the Solitary Surrealist
The Case of the Solitary Surrealist

The Case of the Recalcitrant Rembrandt
The Case of the Recalcitrant Rembrandt

The Case of the Ambiguity of Authenticity
The Case of the Ambiguity of Authenticity

The Case of Margaret Keane’s Big-Eyed Boys
The Case of Margaret Keane’s Big-Eyed Boys

The Case of Clarence’s Château-Gaillard
The Case of Clarence’s Château-Gaillard

The Case of the M.S. Nov 1910
The Case of the M.S. Nov 1910

The Case of Cruise Ship Art: Part 2
The Case of the Archangel Michael Defeating Satan

The Case of Cruise Ship Art: Part 2
The Case of Cruise Ship Art: Part 2

The Case of Mary Most Holy Mother of Light
The Case of Mary Most Holy Mother of Light

The Case of Leni and the Nuba
The Case of Leni and the Nuba

The Case of the Seductive Souvenir
The Case of the Seductive Souvenir

The Case of the Irish Surrealist
The Case of the Irish Surrealist

The Case of the Developing Dalí
The Case of the Developing Dalí

The Case of Nano-D Technology
The Case of Nano-D Technology

The Case of Dabatable Donations
The Case of Debatable Donations

Edgar Heap of Birds
The Case of the Long-tailed Monkey

Edgar Heap of Birds
The Case of Edgar Heap of Birds

Silent Song
The Case of the Silent Song

Aficionado
The Case of Alex and the Art Aficionado

Portrait
The Case of the Privacy of the Publicity Photo

Potter
The Case of the Potter's Portraits

The Case of the Coy Cornelius Krieghoff

The Case of the Political Portraitist

The Case of the Reconsidered Revolution

The Case of the Anabiotic Abbey

The Case of the Phoney Picasso

The Case of Setsuko Piroche

The Case of being on the Forest Edge with Vern Simpson

The Case of Being at the End of the Storm with Loren Adams

The Case of Being: Under the Table with Thomas

The Case of Wyland's Whales on Walls

The Case of A.Y. Jackson's Smart River (Alaska)

The Case of Red Fish with Blue Breasts

The Case of Looe Poole

The Case of Camaldoli

The Case of MS

The Case of the Misattributed Emily Carrs

The Case of the Doubtful Dürer

The Case of the Purloined Picasso

The Case of the Defrocked Duchess of Devonshire

The Case of the First Wife

The Case of the Dodford Priory

The Case of the Unknown Actor

Art Services & Materials


Confessions Back

Practical Art History
(or Confessions of a Fine Art Appraiser)

by Jim Finlay
Finlay Fine Art
jim_finlay@telus.net

Chapter 27. The Case of Edgar Heap of Birds

Edgar Heap of Birds

One sign from Edgar Heap of Birds’s 12-sign project Native Hosts, located at the University of British Columbia

The appraisal of contemporary art is becoming more of a challenge due to the changing nature of what is considered artistic practice within our postmodern society. Postmodernism has redefined art in terms of cultural artifact mandated by cultural theorists to tolerate its own manifestations and permutations in the service of the culture-industry. How do I appraise a controversial conceptual work gifted by an artist to The University of British Columbia through the The Belkin Gallery?

As set out on the Belkin Gallery website, “Edgar Heap of Birds is an internationally known artist and scholar of Cheyenne and Arapaho descent.” Native Hosts consists of 12 aluminum signs which make reference to the relationship between First Nations and British Columbia. They are sited at 12 different locations across the northwest sector of the UBC campus.

On a white background in red text, British Columbia is spelled backwards followed by the phrase ‘Today your Host Is’, and completed by one of 12 names of British Columbia Indian Bands. Heap of Birds employs the format of official public signage. Signs guide the way a person moves through public space and direct one’s behaviour. The viewer is prompted to consider and to potentially question their authoritative power. These signs use text in an imaginative and disconcerting way to stimulate thoughts about issues of history, public space, land claims, and even generosity and sharing.”

In an interview with writer Robert P. Willis, for his article on the UBC Faculty of Arts website, the artist stated that “There is method to some of the text on the signs being in reverse” and that “It's looking back at all history, all BC tribes. I put the text in reverse to try to specify the true hosts of BC. The red symbolizes the blood of Native peoples, which also symbolizes renewal.” Keith Wallace, past-interim associate director and curator of the Belkin, described Native Hosts as not only filling the void of public art on campus, but that it will enhance how people interact with the campus; it will add another level of experience as people move through the university as each section of the artwork also looks like an official sign.

The difficult question of classification is explored in an article, published in Issue 1 of the online UBC Undergraduate Journal of Art History by Catherine Falls, who asks “... is it Coast Salish art? Native American Art? Or should it be placed in another category altogether? The fact that the creation and installation of the work theoretically requires only the artist’s specifications and not the artist’s specific skills or presence further complicates the work’s authenticity in regards to First Nations identity, as execution of the work could be carried out by anyone, regardless of ethnicity. In light of these myriad layers of artistic identity and production, how are we to ascertain the nature of the work’s authorship and classification?.”

It would appear that the monetary value of artwork which is associated with intangible aspects of conceptual work is no longer a legitimate indicator of desirability and acquirability, both of which affect worth. We are therefore left with the economies of material supply and cost of fabrication as an indicator of value. Is it justifiable to deem the work ‘worthless’ because its value appears to lie beyond a commodity-driven market economy? This raises issues associated with possession, use, ownership and control, ironically the very issues that Heap of Birds is addressing within the context of Native land claims.

Next: The Case of the Long-Tailed Monkey

 Sun, Jun 19, 2011