How do you determine the price of a work of contemporary art? One way, of course, is to see how much it will fetch at Christie’s or Sotheby’s. Another might be to assess its carbon footprint.
For his Carbon Copies project, the artist Michael Wang tries the latter tack. He picked works by 20 well-known contemporary artists—Jeff Koons, Damien Hirst, Marina Abramović, and the like—and recast them as cubes. The size and price of each of these "carbon copies" corresponds to the volume of CO2 released in the production of the original work, at a scale of 1:5,000,000 tons. When each work sells, the money will be used to purchase a carbon offset from the French company Vecteur Carbone, so that each purchase cancels out the atmospheric impact of the original.
"They are like negative doubles of the works," Wang says, and through the sale of the copies, the project "erases the carbon footprints of these works even while making them visible for the first time."
Wang researched how each piece was created to calculate its carbon footprint. Because Richard Serra’s massive sculpture Torqued Ellipse IV used about 65 tons of COR-TEN steel, releasing 109.4 tons of CO2, Wang’s version is a proportionately sized cube with a price of $1,094. Other works, Wang says, "used energy and materials in much less visible ways: The flying back and forth of studio assistants or even the floodlights employed by Abramović for her MOMA performance." (Wang’s copy of the Abramović performance goes for $41.60.) The show, at Foxy Productions in New York, runs until January 14.
For Wang, the project is about exploring an alternative economy for art. "I am trying to strip away the usual rhetoric that attends ‘green’ projects and focus instead in a very objective way on tonnage, volumes, numbers," he says. "This isn’t a show that claims to moralize against carbon. Living itself releases CO2. It’s more about generating new ways of seeing both art and the environment."