Ghost Artists

Continuing my exploration of the living-dead of the art world (after finding zombie artists in Melbourne see Art Zombies) ghost-artists were brought to my attention thanks to Karen Thompson (Melbourne Jeweler) and Richard Watts (Man About Town).

Ghost-artists are like ghost-writers and session musicians, they are the ones who make the work that the big name artists, like Patricia Piccinini, put there name to. Piccinini does not draw images of her sculptors, nor does she manufacture them, all she does is think of the idea.

“For me, the ideas for the work come first. I have an image or a vision, and then I think about how I would like it to exist in the world, as a sculpture or photograph or video or whatever. I them find the right person to collaborate with to create that artwork, working closely with them so that what I get in the end is what I imagined in the beginning. Often the work does change a little, because of the input from the people I work with. I have to trust those people a lot, and be able to communicate with them easily. They need to understand me. So I tend to work with the same people a lot, once we have a good relationship. In some ways it is like a write/director of a film, who works with a crew of people to realize their vision.” Patricia Piccinini (2003)

Of course artists since have always used studio assistants, fabricators and other people with technical skills but as they are rarely credited I am calling them ghost-artists.

The public does not expect that a composer to play all the instruments and record, mix and master all their own music. Nor do they expect an author to edit, print and bind their own books. However, the great artist theory of visual art history, with lone genius creators, has ignored, obscured and made ghostly the people assisting the artist. Pop art attacked this image of the artist but the idea lived on in the public’s idea of art to the extent that Mark Kostabi was able to shock the public in the early 1980s by telling 60 Minutes that he hired other artists to think of his ideas.

Credits are not given for many of the roles in the art gallery either: curators do get a mention, sometimes, but not the exhibition installers who hang the work or the catering. The list of credits for an exhibition is considerably shorter than contemporary film or computer games credits. Patricia Piccinini did credit Sam Jinks and Peter Hennessey for their help in producing her work during a speech but is this enough? Sculptor Isabel Peppard (who exhibited at 696 Ink) has also done work for Piccinini. Most people know more about the job of set dressers and grips than the existence of exhibition installers and studio assistants. The argument could be made that the lack of credits doesn’t matter on the basis of trivial importance. Do we really need to know that Mott Iron Works. made the urinal for Duchamp’s “Fountain” or is this trivia? More credits to studio assistants and other ghost artists would help the public to understand, avoid historical debates about who did what and give credit where credit has long been due.

See my review of a Sam Jinks exhibition.


About Mark Holsworth

Writer and artist Mark Holsworth is the author of two books, The Picasso Ransom and Sculptures of Melbourne. View all posts by Mark Holsworth

2 responses to “Ghost Artists

  • Isabel Peppard

    Hi there,
    I really appreciate your mentioning my work in your blog. I just wanted to clarify that although I am also a sculptor, my role with Patricia is as a silicone painter and I am always credited in catalogues and at exhibition openings for my role in the studio. That being said, I’m sure there are many ghost artists that are left completely uncredited in the greater world of contemporary art.

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