Repeat offenders Eva and Franco Mattes illegally enter the radioactive ghost town of Pripyat to source materials for their 2010 installation “Chernobyl Plan C”
Rule breaking is central to the evolution of art; without it we’d still be fawning over repetitious paintings of landscapes and old guys in wigs. The history of illegality in art is extensive and, like art movements themselves, will only continue to grow in audacity. Some of our favourite artists operate in legal grey areas, so we’ve hand-picked four of our favourite law-breaking artworks for your consideration – judge them as you will.
– Kate Zavitz Hicke
The renegade artist collective 0100101110101101.org (pronounced zero one dot org) have a history of making brazen and often-illegal artwork. After meeting in 1994, they began their courtship as 20-somethings often do, by traveling and museum hopping. Unbeknownst to the public, the artists were also collecting souvenirs from their gallery visits and by 1997 had amassed a small trove of stolen artifacts. Fibres from a Warhol canvas, a portion of a shoe string from a Claes Oldenberg sculpture, the manufacturers label from the tank of Jeff Koons’ Three Ball 50/50 Tank, and perhaps most reprehensibly, a small chip of porcelain from Duchamp’s Fountain are amongst the archived relics included in Stolen Pieces. The Mattes claim their actions are an homage to those artists who inspired their own practice and that the “pieces” are not stolen, but simply appropriated. Whatever the motive, the two-year long process of creating Stolen Pieces was very much illegal, hence the artists waiting until 2010 to exhibit the work, when the statute of limitations on the thefts ran out.
Andrea Fraser – Little Frank and His Carp, 2001
Video performance, 6 minutes
Andrea Fraser, best known for her performance Museum Highlights from 1989, has an obvious fondness for institutional critiques and public interventions. In Little Frank, Fraser is seen wandering the foyer of Guggenheim Bilbao and listening to the museum audio guide, which invites visitors to tactilely “stroke the walls” of Frank Gehry’s curvilinear architecture. Fraser interprets the guide as a provocation to embrace the voluptuous central pillar, and in her rapture (and to the surprise of onlookers) lift the bottom of her dress to reveal a white thong. Shock, awe and smut-shaming aside, Little Frank is a perfectly concise and sensually subversive critique of the dominance of art institutions, underscored by just a little public lewdness. Watch the six-minute, not-safe-for-work video here.
Fraud, sexual assault and murder; these are just some of the charges against South African law enforcement in the fight against a state of endemic corruption. Christian Nerf’s ongoing performance series Polite Force is a response to this brutality wherein artist-participants patrol the streets and offer compliments and small favors to civilians. Outfitted in hats and Kevlar vests embroidered with “POLITE” in the same white lettering as Johannesburg’s police regalia, the performers are often mistaken for the real thing. Police responses to the project have been mixed, and surprisingly the most contentious issue is not the borderline-impersonation of authority figures, but the group’s illegal possession and wearing of bulletproof vests.
Making the pilgramage to Prada Marfa has been incredibly popular in the nine years since its installation; check the hashtag on instagram if you don’t believe us. If you’ve been meaning to make the trip yourself, you’d better do it soon; the Texas Department of Transportation recently declared it an “illegal roadside advertisement” after Playboy crashed the party and ruined the fun for everyone else. The shack-sized building, technically a site-specific sculpture, is a perfect replica of a Prada boutique, complete with displays of handbags and shoes chosen by Miuccia Prada herself. The building has been vandalized and its contents stolen (the current purses are bottomless and wired to a security system), but Prada Marfa has a loyal following and many have come to defend its necessity in the local community and art world at large. There’s been no official verdict on its fate as of yet, but keep it in your thoughts.