New York

Stefan Eins

3 Mercer Street Store

Austrian emigré Stefan Eins rented a storefront in SoHo, a few blocks below the main gallery scene, and sits in it to demonstrate his artworks. There are four of them: a pulley attached to the ceiling; a crowbar leaning against the wall; a wooden block with a pin in it with which Eins plays records on an old phonograph; and a bottle of water and a pump he uses to force air into the jar until enough pressure builds up to condense the humid air into a kind of fog.

Eins offers the two tools and two toys at prices that must be close to the cost of materials. Oldenburg’s 1961 Store, sponsored by a gallery, contained work that was clearly sculpture and priced accordingly. What Oldenburg carried out metaphorically, Eins has done literally. As a shopkeeper/artist at his own store/studio, he literalizes the nearby art dealers as clerks and their galleries as showrooms.

Eins’s pulley and crowbar are extremely tenuous as artworks. They’re more attenuated than Duchamp’s Readymades since they are thoroughly unsurprising objects. They were tools in his hands, and he passes them on as tools. Nothing has happened to them except that they have been offered for sale in his store. The audacious paucity of the offerings and the curious, eagerly demonstrative behavior of this shopkeeper (which is not the same as a declamatory interposition of his artisthood) is all that separates Eins’s store and the objects he sells there from the hardware stores and their wares half a block away.

These things are Readymades in the subjunctive case—it is context alone that defines them as artworks. Eins’s role as shopkeeper involves a performance aspect. He demonstrates the fog piece and the block-and-pin record player. Using these pieces as props, it is fairly easy to recreate the performance context that gives them meaning. But, since Eins declines to specify grounds for the artness of the crowbar and pulley, they reassume their apparent function once they leave the store which is their context and arena of meaning. The line is so thin—but underscored by my writing.

Eins’s store is about several kinds of poverty, and part of that is politics. It’s also a more delimited realization of an implicit objective of Fluxus art: a voluntary denaturing of the artist’s position. This can be an antiheroic abdication or simply the logical outcome of a rarification of formal means. Not only is the spectator expected to apprehend the work, but he or she is cajoled or enjoined to a complicity in its realization as well.

Alan Moore