Artists, Inc. 

When a family goes corporate, art consumes life.

Page 2 of 5

Shortly after it formed, the corporation's board of directors approved a $76,000 household expense budget to cover everything from the mortgage and groceries to pet food and Netflix fees. Any time the pair confront an unbudgeted expense of more than $100, they need approval from the board — or at least an okay from its chairman, Allen Spore, an options trader — to spend the money, which explains Fletcher's conversation with Spore about the birthday gifts.

Fletcher and Reichert set a one-year deadline: If they weren't profitable by the end of 2006, they'd dissolve the company. Going out of business by year's end would enable them to avoid the state's $800 tax on corporations. The timeframe also mimicked a work by another conceptual artist duo who literally kept themselves tied together by a rope for one year, which served as a unique kind of endurance test. Fletcher and Reichert, too, would end up feeling shackled before long, but that story comes later.

In the meantime you may wonder, how, exactly, is this art? It's a legitimate question, and there's no tidy answer. But try this: By incorporating their family, the duo transformed daily life into a round-the-clock performance.

Like most conceptual artists, Fletcher and Reichert don't make the kind of art you can hang on a gallery wall. There's usually no object to sell — no painting, no sculpture, no framed photo. "These guys don't make art work like that," says Cheryl Meeker, cofounder of the online art journal Stretcher, who serves on the board of Death & Taxes. "That's what makes them so interesting."

"We always try to do work that's profound, not necessarily profound in a material way," Reichert explains. "We try to do work that really impacts our lives and hopefully the lives of others. I guess we do this through performances and actions rather than finished work that's on the wall somewhere."

As you might expect, the two artists are a little peculiar. Reichert, who came to the United States from Germany in 1995 to attend the San Francisco Art Institute, where she met Fletcher, is friendly but intense. With her straight chin-length blond hair tucked behind her ears, she speaks earnestly about one of her early art-school projects, a series of "saliva paintings" that consisted of Reichert licking the walls of a gallery.

Fletcher is the more overtly silly one in the partnership, even if he's the one who keeps a foot in the real world, so to speak, by working a day job as a businessman. But even that blends into his art. Before becoming a financial planner, he spent almost seven years selling insurance. He calls it a seven-year "performance." He thinks he got fired for holding after-hours "gallery openings" where he hung his friends' art in the company's conference room without telling his bosses.

Art and life are inseparable for the couple. In fact, they practice a distinct brand of conceptual art they call "life art," which blurs the lines between reality and performance. But can living your life be called art? It's the same conundrum presented by the proverbial tree falling in the forest: If there's no audience, was there really a performance?

That, of course, is a philosophical question. From a practical standpoint, as Reichert and Fletcher would soon discover, Death & Taxes wouldn't merely turn their lives into art; it would turn their lives into a burden.

James Philpot is sitting at his office in downtown Oakland, trying to figure out what the heck these two artists are doing here. Philpot, a businessman who sold SpeeDee Oil franchises on the West Coast, is a counselor for the Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE), a national organization that gives free advice to small-business entrepreneurs on getting their companies off the ground.

Fletcher and Reichert have come to SCORE to craft a business plan that will attract investors for Death & Taxes. At least that's what they say. Unbeknown to Philpot, he's a player in one of the couple's life-performances.

"I'm still not getting the point. ... I have a hard time understanding what you're striving for," the befuddled consultant tells Fletcher and Reichert.

"It's an attempt to privatize our lives and change it in a way that makes our lives more profitable," Reichert says.

Philpot remains skeptical. "You want to be profitable, but you don't have a product."

Seeing the consultant's confusion, Reichert allows that Death & Taxes isn't truly a product-based business. It provides a service, she says.

A service?

As Fletcher explains, Death & Taxes has been hired to streamline the household budget and activities of its clients — Fletcher and Reichert — so they have more money and time for their art. In truth, the business is failing. Death & Taxes has only complicated their lives, and has not made it more efficient or profitable. At the time they met with Philpot, they were projecting a $10,000 deficit by year's end.

Fletcher won't concede that the company has no products. There are, for instance, the quarterly corporate reports, which catalogue the couple's household expenses in excruciating detail — the $1 Fletcher gave to a panhandler; the $83.79 Reichert spent at Target on shoes, a skirt, and underwear. The bound reports — of which one hundred are printed each quarter — also have "financial highlights" sections that describe savings and unexpected costs, such as "A parking ticket sparked a stress-related incident that resulted in Sean accidentally throwing a morning newspaper through the front window of the house." Stanford University bought a $175 yearly subscription to the reports.


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