No Stealing the Art!

Even if it's only a penny.

Joined by an intrepid art-looker weeks ago on First Thursday, I noticed, in a corner of Greg Kucera Gallery, a penny on the polished wooden floor that you had to stoop to look at. He picked it up and passed it to me. Maybe I should have said no thanks, I'd rather not (maybe I shouldn't touch the art), but I was tempted; I wanted to test its weight. A sculpture by Jack Daws, this penny was cast in gold, then dipped in a skin of copper. It was supposed to be twice as heavy as an actual minted 1-cent piece, and slightly smaller, but the heft and look of this coin wasn't discernibly different from that of any penny that you'd leave in a gutter. Only here, nice shoes were stopping to look. (We were squatting.) And then someone from the gallery politely asked us to please not handle the art. Caught! And yet isn't this exactly how Daws meant his work to be appreciated? The artist "released" one Counterfeit Penny into circulation at LAX this past March, and since I heard about it, I've been checking 1970 pennies to see if they lack a mint mark (often a D for Denver) above the date. (Yes, silly as it sounds, looking for gold.) I'm charmed by the idea of converting such a commonly ignored object into a thing of wonder, though some fellow art-lookers were not so amused. "Why should I care if it's real or not?" a girlfriend wondered, "I don't want to be tricked." Another friend pondered, "So if someone takes the penny, do they just put out another one? And how do you know if it's real or not?" Real, meaning gold (meaning art), or real, meaning an actual coin of the realm? This conceptual piece seems to be about one's relationship to pennies (do you leave them or do you stop to pick them up?), as well as the idea of an object being worth more as art (the pennies are made in a set of 10, $1,000 each, of which the gallery has sold one or two) than as hard currency. Today, anyway, the penny is worth more as art than its weight in gold. (This penny is no longer on the floor—the show ended Sept. 29—but you can still see it, or one of its siblings, framed, hanging in the office. Up off the floor, it's not quite the same work at all.) Greg Kucera Gallery, 212 Third Ave. S., 624-0770, www.gregkucera.com.

 
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