The Democratic National Convention followed the Olympic Games as spectacle numero uno on the T.V. this week. Since my aim on this blog is to eventually talk about museums, art, perception, and the like I’m not going to talk politics. However, I heard two news reports on the radio this morning and was struck by how issues of authenticity and reproduction (I’m rereading Walter Benjamin’s prescient essay Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction) are still pertinent today. Benjamin speaks of an object (say a painting or an absinthe spoon) as having an “aura”. This aura (the word makes Benjamin sound as if he wore crystals and listened to New Age music) means that the object, by virtue of its authenticity, is a signifier of its own historical context; by looking at it or touching it we somehow confront and participate in its historicity. Original objects have this kind of presence, reproductions hélas are not only are devoid of presence but also reduce our ability to delight in the original due to the sheer glut of mass production.

Which brings me back to today, my coffee, and the radio. NPR reported that following the convention throngs of people were collecting everything they could get their hands on: streams of confetti, flags, posters, even plastic cups. For them, these objects were souvenirs of a historic evening, imbued with an almost fetishistic power.

At the same time, we have an example of what haunted Benjamin in his article: street artist Shepart Fairey who created the iconic Obama image with the word HOPE at the bottom, is now up in arms (rightfully so) against people who have reproduced his image for their own marketing aims. Click here to hear NPR’s interview with him.

So, in a strange twist we have some plastic cups that have become authentic, original objects, full of “aura” from the historic night, while a true work of art has become (against the artist’s wishes) a reproduced and banalized image.







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