Sep 15, 2011

PROFILE | Mark Kostabi

Mark Kostabi, Love Letters, oil on canvas, 2007
Artist Mark Kostabi was born in Las Angeles in 1960 and was raised in Whittier, California. In 1982 he moved to New York and by 1984 he was a leading figure in the East Village art scene. Kostabi's paintings are often of faceless, featureless figures much like mannequins in life-like poses.  In 1988, he founded Kostabi World, his large New York studio which occupies the entire third floor of some prime property in the heart of New York's SoHo where it was known that he employed many assistants who came up with ideas for paintings and another group of people who turned those ideas into works of art which Kostabi then signed. 


It was essentially an ‘art factory’ turning out art works worth thousands of dollars.  The people who work for Mark Kostabi do not feel as if he is stealing their creativity.  One assistant describes the experience as being akin to working for Walt Disney.  He even has the works titled in a non-conventional way.

Kostabi created and hosts a game show in which contestants compete to see who can come up with the best title for his paintings.  The show is called Title This.  'Title This,' says Kostabi, 'evolved out of my original public access TV show which documented meetings at Kostabi World. Some of them were titling sessions and it went from there.' 
Mark Kostabi, Kew Gardens Interlude, oil on canvas, 2006




Kostabi explains: "It's my work in the same way that artworks by Rembrandt, Raphael, Rubens and Andy Warhol were their work, not the work of their assistants. I'd say my input on each painting varies from 50 to 99 per cent. But no artist can ever claim that he or she was involved 100 per cent with their art product - you'd have to weave your own canvas, grind your own paint, chop down the tree, build the stretchers, you'd have to do an absurd amount of work."
 

Kostabi’s art work can be found in the Museum of Modern Art, The Guggenheim and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City as well as the Galleria Nazionale D'Arte Moderna in Rome, Italy.  Kostabi World produces an amazingly large amount of art.  In his studio there are stacks and stacks of canvases, some half-finished and some complete and awaiting a title to be sold or donated to a museum.  Considering the number of Kostabi paintings that have been created and sold it is no wonder that ‘forgeries’ would not be discovered for some time.  A former employee of Kostabi’s started selling forgeries in Tokyo and ended up making tens of thousands of dollars before being caught in 1993.  Kostabi fails to appreciate the irony in someone forging paintings already painted by others, saying: 'A fake Kostabi is not authorised by me. A real one is. Plus, most of the fake ones are really badly done. It's not as easy as it sounds to be a Kostabi assistant.’
Starty Joy

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