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Walter Benjamin

October 23, 2009

“Even the most perfect reproduction of a work of art is lacking in one element: its presence in time and space, its unique existence at the place where it happens to be.”

Benjamin states that when unauthentic art is appreciated, that is when art becomes based not on art, but on politics. When I read this text, the first artist that came to my mind was Andy Warhol. The mechanical reproduction of his works is ongoing, the majority of his sales are not original pieces, yet the public still respond well to his work. The popularity of his pieces indicates that to a certain degree the ‘aura’ of his artwork still remains, as the public still has some connection with his art. Or perhaps the public are not connecting with the art, but in fact are connecting with the idea of art.
Perhaps the definition of art itself is changing rather than the acceptability of mechanical reproduction. Is the marketability of mechanical reproduction in this instance so successful because the meaning of art and its value has changed? Is mechanical reproduction of Warhol’s work so widely accepted because the public does not understand the essence of his artwork? Or is it accepted because art today has become politically and commercially driven?

I wonder if people enjoy his artwork for the accuracy of the mechanical reproductions, or in spite of mechanical reproduction. If mechanical reproduction adds another level of artistic value to the piece, does that mean that mechanical reproduction itself  should not be criticized for taking away the ‘aura’ or ‘presence in time and space’ of the piece, but rather because it is does not fit the general critically acceptable view of art as ‘unique’?

It is interesting to analyze Andy Warhol’s view on mechanical reproduction and the commercialization of art. Here are two of his quotes:
“Making money is art and working is art and good business is the best art.”

“I’ve decided something: Commercial things really do stink. As soon as it becomes commercial for a mass market it really stinks.”
Both statements seem to contradict each other; it is as if Andy Warhol himself could not pinpoint if (and why/why not) mechanical reproduction is acceptable, for the public and for the artist.

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