Today, I’d like to dust off an old display of genius whose core commentators seemed to understand and fail to understand at once. They knew what was going on, but didn’t a close enough look. They kept themselves from theorizing far too deeply.
My thesis is as follows: The Supreme Brick wasn’t only a work of art, it was one hell of a work of art. It was a work of genius.
As Highsnobiety reported, in August of 2016,
"...Supreme might be the biggest streetwear brand in the world right now, but it's still got a sense of humor. Case in point is its accessories line, which, season after season, features tongue-in-cheek products that serve pretty much no purpose whatsoever. Supreme-branded hammer, anyone? How about a calculator? It's become a bit of a running joke in the streetwear community, and it's a great way for Supreme to mock (and validate) haters' claims that people will buy anything with a Box Logo on it. The brand has even started making stuff specifically for all the kids camping out before drop days. (...) For FW16, Supreme has unveiled what's probably its most ridiculous item yet. A Box Logo-branded *brick*. Where past novelties have been at least a bituseful, in some way or another, who needs just one, single brick? Not even Supreme heads who happen to build houses for a living. Supreme prompts commentary and divided opinions with almost everything it does, and the brick is one of the brand's most bizarre stunts yet. Is it art? Is it a joke? Is it just Supreme trolling its many, many detractors? Or even its own fans?..."
I loathe the term “trolling” because it functions as a label that justifies the dismissal of its subject. If it’s trolling, it’s just a joke. “It’s trolling”. Sometimes, the “troll” label and the consequent dismissal allows vile adults to feed teens and kids with neo-nazi propaganda (“It’s just an edgy meme”, “it’s trolling”, etc.,etc., I wrote about it); sometimes, it just spares us from experiencing a work of art with the attention, curiosity and thrill that art arouses.
Nowadays, outside of dedicated, I’d say, academic circles, art is either a mere social tool,decoration, or a numb experience, an experience we could have, but don’t allow ourselves to.
It might be due to the frenzy the market forces us into, it might be due to our ever-impoverished abilities to put together narratives (a relationship with a painting is a narrative) - Je ne sais pas. We live in an odd world, everything has to be born again, everything has to transform and start anew, and the creation of this new world is being delayed, either by masturbatory nostalgia (which creates within very well-defined limits), or by the material limitations of late capitalism and the final triumph of the idea of profit as mandatory, even within the arts.
Whatever, back to the Supreme Brick: Why is it art? I don’t know. But it is. I can’t justify why it’s art. It’s art because it consists of a technical effort to convey a message. But, is a pamphlet art? Is it a newspaper? No, because they have another function, to inform or to propagandize - What about conceptual art with a political message? It’s art because it’s art. I don’t have such a hard time if I’m trying to explain why it’s art.
The work of art isn’t the object itself, it’s the concept. The object is incomplete. The real work of art is a doing, it’s the activities surrounding the object. The work of art is incomplete. How is it completed? By its purchase. The purchase isn’t merely a detail in the story of the piece, (which, actually, isn’t a single object, but a series of objects). The brick forces its target audience towards self-parody. And, unlike its predecessor, the Supreme hammer, it doesn’t even have a function. It doesn’t even have a use. What are you gonna do? Buy enough of them to build a house? Are there enough in existence for you to build a house? Are you gonna build a house with 30 dollar bricks? If you buy one or two, what are you gonna do, have them in your living room as decorative pieces? Really, two 30 dollar bricks? It’s ridiculous. It’s absolutely ridiculous.
The Supreme Brick was mocked, but it was also purchased. And, nowadays, some people are reselling it at inflated prices.
The Supreme Brick is art because it does what all great art does: It tests the limits of reality.