I was going to title this post “Signature Blues,” just to be cutesy in the wake on my last post on framing issues…
In the hundreds and hundreds of shows that I have organized as a gallerist or curated or judged as a juror or curator, one of my constant pet peeves is how artists sign (or not sign) their work.
My biggest pet peeve in that den of peeves is the common artist mistake of having a HUGE signature that makes such a bold statement as to often destroy the integrity and composition of the art itself.
Some artists, such as Norman Rockwell, often signed their works in bold, and even interesting ways that were designed to still be read when their paintings were reproduced as a magazine cover. For these master illustrators, it was very important that their name was recognized once their work was printed on the cover.
But most artists should not make their signature distract from the work itself. Do not sign your work somewhere, anywhere other than in a discreet location on the margin somewhere. Never a few inches into the work itself and never, ever in gold or silver or some other ghastly color scheme.
Amateur photographers are especially fond of signing their photographs with gold or silver pens. Did you notice that I wrote “amateur?” The visual presentation of a photograph should not be marred by that kitschy practice. if you sign your photo on the front, do it discreetly on the margin; otherwise sign it on the verso, also on the margin. I’ve also seen the practice of signing the mat in pencil, and I am OK with that, although I know some gallerists and museum symbiotes do not like that practice either.
Let me be clear: the art must be signed.
If the signature distracts from your own personal aesthetic, then sign it on the back of the work. To be blunt, most collectors demand signatures and there’s ample empirical data that shows that unsigned works always get less in auctions than signed pieces.
Vatican legend has it that when Michelangelo finished his Pieta, the night before it was to be opened to the public, he hid behind some columns as a bunch of priests and cardinals admired the masterful sculpture.
“Who made it,” asked someone.
“I think it was Raphael,” replied someone else.
Michelangelo was so incensed that his masterpiece was being attributed to his rival, that once the place was cleared, he climbed atop the statue and carved his name in bold letters across the sash that crosses Mary’s chest. He carved: “Michelangelo Buonarroti of Florence Created This.”
I believe that it was the last piece that he ever signed.
And it was too big.