Most people know that artists, particularly those working in three dimensions, rarely fabricate their work entirely by themselves. Sculptures nowadays are often so technically complex that they require specialists’ knowledge to bring the concept into existence. This might bring into question the idea of who really made the work, and, in fact, the art world had a debate about this very topic—some fifty years ago. The philosophical questions surrounding so-called “true” authorship have been talked to death in essays centering on Donald Judd, who notoriously outsourced many of his minimalist sculptures to the sheet metal specialists at Bernstein Brothers, and Anne Truitt, who equally notoriously made most of her work herself, by hand.
Like most philosophical problems, the question of true authorship seems to be demonstrably unanswerable. At the very least, each side of the craftsmanship spectrum has pros and cons, such that choosing a side amounts to a subjective value judgement more than anything else. For example, surely Koons (one of whose countless previous assistants, Jason Brown, is one of Salmon’s guests) relinquishes some creative control when he employs as many people as he does—but isn’t it better that Puppy (1992) was made at all, rather than existing as a mere sketch? The trade-offs inherent in the artist-as-manager model could spark endless debate, no doubt, but all that’s left for the essayists ultimately is the debate itself. Neither side has any hope of winning this argument, among the countless others
Take episode 8 as an example, where Salmon interviews the founding members of Brooklyn Research. The team is often tasked with conservation projects, another topic of endless debate among critics (did the Italian government fundamentally alter Michelangelo’s David when they made the controversial decision to clean it, effectively erasing centuries of history, or did they do the public a service by returning the sculpture to the state in which it was originally displayed?). While the team at Brooklyn Research could have spent months arguing about whether they should preserve the sporadic black and white specks found in some of Warhol films (while alive, he exhibited the work with specks and all), they didn’t—they were on a deadline.