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Auction tests a theory: Can damage boost art’s value?


Paul Studtmann with Falling Down Man

Paul Studtmann with the damaged "Falling Down Man" by Charlie Spear. (Bill Giduz photo)

DAVIDSON – Can damage actually increase the value of a piece of art? A Davidson College philosophy professor thinks so, and he’ll test the theory in a benefit auction this Friday, Dec. 9., at Summit Coffee in Davidson. The event begins at 8 p.m.

Philosophy professor Paul Studtmann will auction a 2-foot by 3-foot painting complete with its badly bowed steel frame. The painting was damaged in transit from the studio of artist Charlie Spear of Indianapolis to Prof. Studtmann in Davidson.

The acrylic-on-wood image titled “Falling Down Man” depicts a marionette heaped on the ground, which Mr. Spear intended as a statement about the plight of the homeless.

An appraiser in Davidson declared the work “valueless” because of its damage, but Prof. Studtmann and Mr. Spear contend that the damage makes the painting more symbolically complete.

“There’s a weird category of art in which damage is an integral part of the work. Think of Venus De Milo with no arms, or the Liberty Bell with its crack,” Mr. Studtmann said.

One of the most famous examples is Marcel Duchamp’s painting “The Large Glass.” It was created on a glass panel that was broken during installation in a museum, then carefully repaired by the artist.

“Sometimes an accident can complete a work of art, and that’s what I believe happened with Falling Down Man,” Prof. Studtmann said. “It’s beautifully ironic that the unexpected damage to the frame reinforces and completes this image of downtrodden members of our society. I actually think this painting is the purest form of ‘improved by damage’ art I can imagine.”

Friday’s auction will be the concluding event in the professor’s two-year experiment on the value of art. He initially embarked on a quest to acquire a painting by Van Gogh by trading pieces of artwork on the Internet. He had hoped to emulate the online “One Red Paperclip” project, in which a person bartered his way up from a paperclip to ownership of a house. Prof. Studtmann began with a drawing by his eight-year-old nephew, and hoped to execute trades of increasing value until he could acquire a Van Gogh. He documented his journey on his blog

Prof. Studtmann eventually executed nine trades. But the unexpected damage to his ninth trade, “Falling Down Man,” prompted him to turn in a different direction and ponder the issues surrounding damaged art. It was then a short step from intellectual rumination to an actual physical auction to test the question.

What will be the ultimate value of “Falling Down Man?” Prof. Studtmann believes not only the damage, but also the project beneficiary, will help attract bids at the auction. All proceeds from the sale will go to ArtWorks945 , a program of the Urban Ministry Center in Charlotte, which helps homeless people find proper shelter.

Prof. Studtmann’s first step in the auction has been to post a picture of “Falling Down Man” online and invite visitors to make a donation to ArtWorks945 on behalf of the painting. That initiative has thus far attracted $582 in donations, which Prof. Studtmann will set as the opening bid in the Dec. 9 live auction.

There is no charge to attend the “Falling Down Man” auction, which will include a brief presentation by Studtmann about the project, and auctions for several pieces of art from ArtWorks945 clients.

For information on ArtWorks 945, contact director Tyler Helfrich at 704-926-0618 or

For information about the Van Gogh Project, contact Studtmann at

SOURCE: Davidson College News Office

THE RESULTS – Painting sells for $1,400

Cargo Logistics Network of Charlotte was the auction winner at this event, paying $1,400 for the painting in question. Cami Meador of Davidson (photo) was the winning bidder on behalf of the company, which saw the purchase as a way to support a good cause.

See Paul Studtmann’s recap:

This post was written by:

- who has written 590 posts on The Guide.

David Boraks is the founder and editor of Davidson News LLC, which started in 2006 as a neighborhood blog and evolved into a regional community news network. He is a print, magazine, web and radio journalist, with experience in every nook and cranny of the news world, covering everything from local news to Fortune 100 companies to technology to Asia. He lives on South Street in Davidson, in a house that was at the center of a 1914 murder case. Ask him and he'll tell you that story.

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