When the British graphic designer Peter Saville exhibited his creative archive, or ‘Estate’ as he called it, at Zurich’s Migros Museum back in 2005 he left the last room as a work in progress. He filled the room with objects that bore little significance to the rest of the show but still seemed pertinent to Saville and laid everything out on tables except one plastic bird, which he mounted on a plinth.
Visitors treated the bird with reverence, which Saville understood as the effect of the plinth, not necessarily the bird’s artistic value. And so the premise for ‘Accessories to an Artwork’, currently showing at the Paul Stolper gallery, was born. Saville has designed a white cardboard, flatpack plinth, for sale in a limited edition of 200, the idea being that in today’s age of ‘culture for the masses’ we’re all entitled to choose what merits artistic status.
The exhibition showcases the plinths with ‘work’ by a selection of Saville’s peers and friends including Hans Ulrich Obrist, Thomas Demand, Gavin Turk and Jarvis Cocker, each allowed to place whatever they wish on their plinth. The results vary from the sublime (Douglas Gordon’s pile of ash atop a charred plinth) to the inflated (Cerith Wyn Evans’ helium balloon).
It’s not clear if the exercise is intended as a wry comment on the contemporary art world’s open-armed approach to sculpture but this ambiguity is part of the exhibition’s charm. What’s interesting is that a mundane object sat on a plinth in a gallery space commands a second glance and a moment’s thought, bleakly suggesting that 3-dimensional art might be summed up in the formula: big name plus plinth equals work of art.