How to Succeed in Contemporary Art Without Really Trying

Dec 06, 2013 at 8:57 AM ET

MIAMI—It’s the first week of December, which means the world’s current and future gout sufferers have descended once again upon Miami for Art Basel, the jet set’s annual orgy of conspicuous consumption. Now in its 11th year, Basel Miami has become one of the largest and most important art fairs on the international circuit, where wealthy drunks drop obscene amounts of cash for the latest and greatest from hot young artists, and everyone else tries to fuck them.

It’s widely known that wherever hot young artists go, perfume-scented clouds of bullshit form overhead, raining down free money and adoration. And the smog is thick at the Miami Beach Convention Center this year. A quick survey of the product on offer has convinced us once and for all that being a successful contemporary artist is the greatest job in the entire world. And here’s the exciting part: We’re pretty sure we’ve cracked the code.

Own a trash can? Have a basement, garage or closet? Are you physically able to wrap pears in tinfoil or drop stuff on a floor? Well, you might as well buy a villa in France, friend, because you are a successful contemporary artist. That’s right: Now you, too, can earn $100,000 to $1 million at Art Basel without even leaving the house! It’s that easy.

Wait a second, you’re asking, do I need to buy all kinds of fancy equipment or expensive professional art supplies?  No and no!  Just follow these 14 simple DIY steps using everyday household items and a little imagination. We’re not even going to make you buy the infomercial DVDs or pay shipping and handling, we’re just going to give away this life-changing information free of charge.

If you’re also asking yourself, “Didn’t the original gangster Marcel Duchamp figure this shit out almost a hundred years ago with his famous found-object urinal?”  The answer is yes, and congratulations for taking art history 101 in college. “But how is it then that an entire generation of RISD grads can keep ripping off the same idea year after year and still convince these corpulent billionaires to line up at the trough?” It’s art, you philistine; didn’t you go to college? Now let’s get down to business. All prices quoted below are real.

1. Wad up a pile of your soiled underpants and drop them on the floor. Done. Congratulations! You are a fucking genius. Seriously. This piece sold for $3,500. We told you this would be easy! Now you can barely afford to keep your underwear on—it’s like printing money. (Rosa by Adriano Costa, Sadie Coles Gallery)

2. Splash some paint on a couple of used mattresses. Demand $65,000. EACH. You’re getting the hang of it.  (Untitled by Wade Guyton, Kelley Walker, Greene Naftali Gallery)

3. Oops. You spilled some tennis balls on the floor. And…it’s a goddamned masterpiece! You’re a natural. We knew you had what it takes. 

4. Blindfold yourself and grab 14 random items out of your attic or closet. Arrange them on the floor. Charge nothing less than the $12,000 you deserve, you beautiful monster. (Destination Peru by Meric Algun Ringborg, Galerie Nordenhake)

5. Wrap some fruit in tinfoil. Finished. Your raw talent is positively sexual.  (The American Supermarket by Robert Watts, Leslie Tonkonow Artworks + Projects)

6. Place one fruit on a mirrored pedestal. Take the rest of the day off.  (F.R.O #a-g by Thomas Zipp, Baudach)

7. Swipe some belts from your mom’s closet—the ones she got at Marshalls that time but never wore. Apply them to a wall. You must be exhausted. Stick with it, you can do this!  (Beltbuckle (Voodoo Ray), Belt Buckle (Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag), Belt Buckle (Misirlou) by Jim Lambie, Anton Kern Gallery)

8. Put a rock in the corner. Make sure the rock is nice looking. This must have been what it was like watching Michelangelo paint the Sistine Chapel. (Still. Life. by Ugo Rondinone, Esther Schipper Gallery)

9. Grab a big armload of shit out of a Goodwill donation dumpster and paper-mache it all together like a disturbed child. If you can’t find a pink sweatshirt, just toss in a dirty rag or whatever junk is closest, like a fast-food wrapper. But not your beret—you’re going to need that. You’re an artist now. 

10. Dump the contents of your kitchen utility drawer into a concrete receptacle (Warning: advanced). (New Museum by Adriano Costa, Sadie Coles Gallery)

11. Steal any bike in Portland and/or outside someone’s tent at Burning Man. Ask $25,000 or best offer. (Pedal Over by Jarbas Lopes, Galerie Krinzinger).

12. Choose one sporting good from your garage and kick it into the middle of the room.  Wait for your check in the mail. (Minus gallery fees, of course—the leeches always take a piece. They live off your creativity because they can’t create themselves. That’s just going to be life for you now, get used to it.) (Untitled (Ball) by Marzena Nowak, Gallery Mezanin)

13. Own a Shop-Vac and a can of spray-paint? Don’t overthink it. Quit while you’re ahead. You just earned $75,000which is what this sold for on the first day. (Labor Saving Device by Roxie Paine, Kavi Gupta)

14. Dangle some life preservers on your step stool. Now take a load off and have a beer—you’ve really earned a break. But make sure to leave the red plastic cup on the stool—this is art, for fuck’s sake. Here’s $25,000. (Summer Law by Lizzie Fitch/ Ryan Trecartin, Andrea Rosen gallery)