Hard Knocks

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Can damage make art more valuable?
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By John Syme

Can damage increase the value of a piece of art? Associate Professor of Philosophy Paul Studtmann put this question to the test by auctioning a two-by-three-foot painting complete with its badly bowed steel frame. The acrylicon- wood image, “Falling Down Man,” depicts a marionette heaped on the ground, which artist Charlie Spear of Indianapolis intended as a statement about homelessness. The painting was damaged in transit from Indianapolis.

A local appraiser declared the work “valueless,” but Studtmann and Spear felt that the damage made the painting more symbolically complete.

“There’s a weird category of art in which damage is an integral part of the work. Think of Venus De Milo with no arms, or the Liberty Bell with its crack,” Studtmann said. “Sometimes an accident can complete a work of art, and that’s what I believe happened with “Falling Down Man.” It’s beautifully ironic that the unexpected damage to the frame reinforces and completes this image of downtrodden members of our society. I actually think this painting is the purest form of ‘improved by damage’ art I can imagine.”

The auction at Summit Coffee concluded a two-year experiment by Studtmann. He had embarked on a quest to acquire a Van Gogh by trading artwork on the Internet, emulating the online “One Red Paperclip” project, in which a person bartered up from a paperclip to ownership of a house. Studtmann began with a drawing by his eight-year-old nephew. The damage to his ninth trade, “Falling Down Man,” prompted his new direction.

The painting brought $1,400 at auction. To complete his philosophical circle, Studtmann donated the proceeds to the ArtWorks945 program of the Urban Ministry Center in Charlotte, which helps homeless people find proper shelter.

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