Danica Phelps’s accountant must really love her. Since 1996, the artist has been keeping meticulous records of her finances as a conceptual project. Beneath Filofax-style lists of each day’s events, she tracks dollars with tiny stripes of watercolor: red for expense, green for income, gray for credit. In a show at this gallery last year, Phelps attempted to turn her bookkeeping into currency by executing trades with other artists. Her latest project, “Artist, Collector, Curator, Spy,” is an extended effort to circumvent the exchange values of the art market through a personal twist on familiar games of appropriation.
Phelps made the rounds of New York galleries and snapped digital photos of the works that she especially coveted. She then made a drawing from each photo and arranged the images into mini-exhibitions that range from the thematically straightforward (“Nighttime,” “Straight Lines”) to the self-consciously intellectual (“Mastermining”). The results are displayed alongside her ongoing financial documentation. This summer, Phelps will use the new drawings in attempts to obtain actual work by the artists who inspired them. Clearly, the woman has good taste: Her virtual collection includes works by Janet Cardiff, Francis Alÿs, Yasumasa Morimura, and Ed Ruscha.
In claiming to subvert the market, Phelps could be accused of biting the hand that feeds her. After all, her art is for sale, and her system of replacing each sold drawing with an equally salable tracing or “generation” allows for infinite profitability even as it critiques the idea of an original artwork. This disingenuous posture, though, is balanced by her refreshingly un-conceptual embrace of drawing and the winning details of her daily struggles to make ends meet. Phelps’s proprietary approach breaks down into an earnest impulse to create art and a genuine faith in its inherent value, elevating her enterprise above the bottom line.