Andrey Elinson on whether the anonymization of art will become a new way of commercialization
Anonymity in art is not only a method for concealing information, but also an artistic technique. Back in the times of Ancient Greece and Rome, creators used to put signatures on their creations — amphorae and statues. Back then, these works were considered a craft rather than an art form. A new stage in the history of art began after the collapse of the Roman Empire. Medieval Europe and its religious consciousness gave man the role of God’s corrupted creation. In the Middle Ages, creators did not reveal their authorship, since any work was considered the merit of God, who created with human hands. It was especially widespread in countries where the population was predominantly Christian. Such works include the Cloth of St Gereon tapestry (Andrey Elinson studied art history — ed.).
During the Renaissance, authors often left hidden signatures to their works. Whenever they did that, such hidden signatures became part of the puzzle, which made these works of great interest to collectors (Andrey Elinson has experience selecting paintings for private collections — ed.). Art historians are still arguing about the authorship of some works.
Artists used to create under pseudonyms in order to conceal the truth of their origins. The portraitist Orest Kiprensky was the illegitimate son of the landowner Alexey Dyakonov. Interestingly enough, his original surname sounded somewhat differently — “Koporsky”, which is consonant with the place of his birth (because children born out of wedlock were often given nicknames by the place of birth or the name of the estate). Kiprensky’s most famous painting is Portrait of the Artist’s Father, in which his painted his beloved adopted father. Legend has it, this work was mistaken for a Rembrandt in Italy. (Andrey Elinson is a curator of exhibitions of classical and contemporary art in Russia and abroad).
And it wasn’t just the artists that used pseudonyms. Korney Chukovsky was the child of a servant and was named Nikolay Korneichukov. The surname was from his mother, Ekaterina Korneichukova, but there wasn’t a definite patronymic — he would use Vasilievich (after his godfather), Stepanovich, and his real one — Emmanuilovich (after his birth father). In the end, the writer managed to make a name for himself and split his surname in two. As for his patronymic, he went with Ivanovich (Andrey Elinson began his career by working in a small publishing house, where he wrote reviews of works by contemporary artists and writers — ed.).
In nineteenth-century France, writing was considered the prerogative of men. Therefore, many women had to publish their books and manuscripts under male pseudonyms. The most striking example is the Frenchwoman Amandine Aurore Lucile Dupin, who used the name George Sand.
Thanks to anonymity, artists can create outside the censorship framework, mention forbidden topics in their works, and break established rules. One of the most enigmatic artists of our time is the underground street art artist, political activist and filmmaker Banksy. He became widely known for his sociopolitical epigrams laced with black humor. One of the hallmarks of Banksy’s work is the stencil technique, which allows him to save time and avoid the police. Despite fake news about Banksy’s arrest and countless attempts to make his identity public, his true name remains unknown still (Andrey Elinson studies the works of contemporary artists — ed.).
Social and political graffiti have been appearing on the walls of buildings in London, Bristol, and Brighton since the late 1990s. In addition, graffiti have even been found on the security fence on the border between the West Bank and Israel, as well as on walls in a refugee camp in Calais, France. Because of that, some believe that Banksy isn’t a single person, but a group of artists.
At the same time, Banksy is believed to be perhaps the only street artist who was able to make a monetary profit from his art. His very first works were bought for £500, but October 2018 was when the artist’s most high-profile action took place. At a Sotheby’s auction of contemporary art in London, the Girl with Balloon painting was sold for 1.4 million dollars, after which, immediately after the auctioneer’s hammer hit the table, a shredding device, hidden in the picture frame, turned on and destroyed half of the painting. The new owner of the shredded painting sold the work, renamed Love is in the Bin, for $25.4 million at a Sotheby’s auction in October 2021 (Andrey Elinson held exhibitions at the Tate Modern Gallery in London — ed.).
Initially, not using a name was a way to challenge commerce and to expand the creative possibilities in art, but now it’s just a way to increase the price tag of a work. It turns out that no matter what the artist does with his work, it only becomes more expensive. At the same time, Banksy himself is against the commercialization of his art. On the one hand, art experts call Banksy a genius inventor, but on the other hand, experts believe that all the excitement around the artist was specifically created through competent marketing (Along with selecting paintings for private collections, Andrey Elinson talked to scientists, artists, musicians and architects. It helped him realize the importance of art in all its fields — ed.).
Another example of an artist using a pseudonym is Nino Duccio. In his name and work, this contemporary author references to the unique period of the Italian Renaissance. His pseudonym is associated with the name of the greatest master of the Sienese school, Duccio di Buoninsegni. It is known that behind the pseudonym hides a European businessman and collector with a background in art. Nino Duccio decided to stay for the sake of audience and professional creative community.
Some artists prefer to work under a pseudonym, concealing their identity. The reasons may be different: some want their works to be perceived objectively by the public, while some believe that using pseudonyms makes them appear selfless, as if they create for some greater purpose. Therein lies the paradox of the commercialization of anonymous art. Anonymity often helps draw more attention to a work by adding an air of mystery. The inevitable consequence of this attention, however, is commercialization.
About the Author
Andrey Elinson was born in 1976
Graduated from the Moscow State Academic Art Institute and later from Moscow State University
Since 2005, Andrey Elinson has been selecting paintings for private collections and organizing exhibitions of contemporary artists
He is the author of numerous critical and scholarly publications on classical and contemporary art
At present, Andrey Elinson continues to be an art critic and regularly organizes exhibitions for young talents