Artists, Inc. 

When a family goes corporate, art consumes life.

Page 4 of 5

That much quickly became apparent to Marcia Tanner, who resigned from the board after feeling she was a passenger on a rudderless ship. "I think maybe they started it without thinking it through," the former director of the San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art says. In her mind, the duo wasn't willing to take enough risks and push the limits of absurdity far enough. Early on, Tanner suggested they sell shares to the company, but Fletcher and Reichert refused because they wanted to be able to claim a loss on their taxes if the company ended 2006 in the red. "I just began to wonder what the project was about and whether it was realizing its initial goals," she says, adding with a laugh, "not that I knew what those goals were."

Board member Stefan Jost, director of the Shelburne Museum in Vermont, thinks he has it figured out: The couple's piece, in his view, is a biting commentary on the modern art world. Artists are obsessed with making it big and getting rich nowadays, he says. Yet few will talk openly about their profit motives. Fletcher and Reichert, he believes, have created a project that on its surface openly embraces the concept of getting rich off your art, and uses a corporate model to get the point across.

Indeed, the artists gleefully appropriate corporate language to make exaggerated pronouncements in their reports: "The deregulation and privatization of the art markets create an enormous opportunity for Death & Taxes," reads Chairman Spore's "message to shareholders" prefacing the company's first-quarter report. "Just as painting was the primary media of the 19th century, and abstract expression was the innovation of the 20th century, conceptual art will be the primary source of art in the 21st century."

In reality, Fletcher and Reichert are the sole shareholders.

"What I like about this project," Jost says, "is that it acknowledges the obsessions with money and financial gain. But then (ironically) they don't manage to be successful at it, at making money."

Fletcher and Reichert encourage divergent interpretations of the meaning of their project, and revel in the ambiguity, which they believe enhances the work. "It can be more profound if it sits on the fence," Fletcher says. "We're not antiprivatization, we're not talking about the corporatization of anything. It's really — you're not quite sure. So when you see it or read about or experience it in some way, you have to think, 'Where are they on this?' And it stays with you for that reason, because you're not sure."

If pressed about the piece's meaning, they say it's a comment on the trend toward privatization of social and cultural institutions. That's a maddeningly unsatisfying answer and a mixed metaphor to boot. Exactly what are they privatizing? Their private lives? If anything, they've turned their private lives inside out for everyone to see. It's absurd.

Absurdity, indeed, is a running theme in conceptual art, and Fletcher and Reichert's work is no exception. "There's always a smile behind it," Spore admits. "But it's not a joke, it's not a one-liner."

As to whether it's art, Spore says there's no use in debating it: It's art if they say it is. Sue Mark concurs. "What Sean and Isabel are doing, the art part comes from being artists," she says. "But beyond that, it's an interesting experiment. They're taking their personal lives and opening it up to a group of relative strangers."

Of course, experiments can yield unintended results.

A woman with a clipboard is going through Fletcher and Reichert's refrigerator-freezer, cataloguing its contents. "Wow, you have a lot of bread in here," she says, surveying the frozen landscape. Soon Reichert is holding four unfinished loaves. "Why do we have all this bread?" she asks aloud. The artist puts the loaves aside as a friend captures it all on a camcorder for use in a documentary down the road.

"Oh, wait," the woman with the clipboard announces. "More bread." After she's finished with the fridge, she inspects the cupboards, and to her disbelief finds even more bread. Clearly, the auditor has uncovered a case of severe corporate waste and inefficiency in the kitchen.

The food auditor is Beth Lisick, a Death & Taxes board member better known as the Berkeley-based author of the memoir Everybody Into the Pool. Just a few months earlier, Fletcher and Reichert knew her only in passing. The board's mission is to oversee the couple's spending and lifestyle, and Fletcher says he and Reichert avoided recruiting friends for the slots. They wanted people who would be more objective, even cut-throat, in forcing them to adhere to the corporate bottom line.

Lisick's goal in visiting the artists' home off Oakland's 35th Avenue is to advise them on how to shop for groceries efficiently. In the corporation's first month, Fletcher and Reichert went overboard — one grocery bill alone amounted to more than $200, which put the couple on a path to go dangerously over budget on food.

So Lisick is taking inventory of what the starving artists already have so they don't go to the store and buy something they don't need — like another loaf of bread. After completing her inspection, she sits down with Fletcher and Reichert at the dining room table to plot out their meals. The key is menu-driven shopping. "If you're planning what you eat," Lisick tells them, "then you aren't running out at the last minute and buying things and spending money you wouldn't if you were more organized." With her help, Reichert and Fletcher plan their dinners for the next two weeks: Roast chicken and corn on the cob; turkey cutlets, rice, salad; grilled chicken and vegetables; and pizza (Lucy's favorite).

In another cost-control measure, the board nixed Reichert's request to buy a new computer when her old one died unexpectedly. Eventually, the board let her buy a used Apple G5 on Craigslist for $1,000, saving hundreds of dollars over what a new one would have cost.

Artist Sue Mark finds being a Death & Taxes board member a little uncomfortable sometimes. She never asks close friends about their finances, she says, but here she is examining the couple's most minute expenditures, right down to their Q-Tips. It was Mark who instructed them to sell a piece of their project to buy their daughter a new pair of shoes.

She thinks the artists are brave for opening up their lives to scrutiny. "It's like having an advisory board on how to live your life," she says. "That could be handy if you have the right people, but it could also be terrifying."


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