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Jan. 28, 2017: Credits

As I temporarily try to ignore how sick the events of yesterday evening—when Donald Trump enacted his "Muslim Ban," on Holocaust Remembrance Day of all days—are making me feel today, I wanted to revisit a conversation I recently had with my friend Tommy. While at a music event he had organized, I mentioned that my girlfriend, Kt, was at work, fabricating pieces at the studio of the artist she works for, Rirkrit Tiravanija. Tommy mentioned that, while of course he knows that artists have assistants who fabricate their work, it still strikes him as odd every time he hears about a painting by an artist like Rirkrit being wholly created by someone else. It is a bit odd, even if assistants have been making their bosses' work for hundreds of years, and, fifty years removed from the advent of conceptual art, we're especially comfortable with the conception of the artist as idea-person. Any active artist that you've heard of has assistants whose efforts range from minor touch-ups to full-scale fabrication, and that doesn't diminish the main person's position as "artist."

But, shouldn't the assistants be credited? In other art forms, like music and film, a system exists for such crediting: a record bears its artist's name clearly on the front, but somewhere else (inside or on the back) the names of the producer, the engineer, the people who played on it, et al. are listed; a film is more clearly a collaborative work, but even if it's largely attributed to a single auteur, it still has lengthy credits at the end (or beginning) that give credit to everyone involved in its making. Records and films aren't paintings, sure, and besides always being more directly collaborative efforts are released much less frequently (i.e., a musician puts out one album per year or less, while a painter may "release" dozens of canvases every year). And, sure, it still makes sense to attribute one of the paintings Kt makes to "Rirkrit Tiravanija"; his name will justifiably go on a museum wall text, at the front of a catalogue, at the top of a press release.

Yet Kt (and her co-workers at the studio) should be credited; there should be a system for crediting people who work on a given artwork. Not only is it fair, but it could add intrigue and depth to the study of the art, in that I could then look at a painting by Rirkrit from 2005 with [Assistant Name] credited as the fabricator and then another from 2017 with Kt credited as the fabricator, and that would be another metric by which to analyze the painting. It could also give assistants the opportunity to become known (and paid) for specific tasks. Just as reading record credits could tell you that Rashad Becker is amazing at mastering, the credits on an array of paintings could suggest that [Assistant Name] is a master of painting skies or rivers or noses.

Where would these credits go? It may be a bit much to put them on wall texts, given the limited amount of space (that said, doing so would in turn be a major statement). Sometimes they do go in catalogues, but even when they do, catalogues are privileged information: text behind a "paywall," as it were. So, I feel like the credits should always go in catalogues and also on the press releases and/or websites for a given exhibition. Josh Kline did this with his show, Unemployment, at 47 Canal last year. Matters of labor were central to the show, so it's important and good that he included that. But everyone should do it. And that's my thought on the matter as of right now.

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