Chimpanzee’s Photographs Sell For Big Bucks at Auction, Why?

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Does a photograph become more valuable depending on who is behind the viewfinder? In London this week, a Russian art collector thought so, and was willing to put down $76,000 to prove it.

That price tag was for a collection of 18 photographs taken by Mikki – no, not the one writing this article (sadly). Mikki was a Russian circus performer, who had the good fortune to be a charming three foot tall chimpanzee. The “artwork” – the 4th out of a 10-print run – sold at Sotheby’s Auction House for 50,000 GBP; this news clip from CBS This Morning gives the full story:

Mikki was taught his basic photographic skills in the 1990s by fellow performers and conceptual artists Alexander Melamid and Vitaly Komar, who have a long history of creating art with animals. Some people see the images as having important cultural significance, of being an abstract expression from a living creature who knows no speech. Others think it’s just silly.

The chimp-artist seems to have learned simply to point the camera and click the shutter, without mastering the finer details of focusing or setting manipulation. So the question that comes to mind is, would these images be nearly as valuable if I, or anyone else has taken them? Does a piece’s value correlate directly to its creator?

Obviously it does, to a certain extent. If Richard Avedon took the picture, it would probably be worth even more. If I did, it would barely be worth a few bucks for the frame. That goes for anything, regardless of what the picture even looks like. So is it art? And, just as importantly, is it valuable?

chimp photography

Nobody has ever been able to aptly describe what “art” is, so I don’t figure we have any business defining what does and does not get to be called such; art is a thing which, by its very nature, eludes explanation. The images are, however, a piece of art history, and can be appreciated for that reason alone.

We can probably all agree, though, that art doesn’t just boil down to what’s on the canvas. Any visual creation is inevitably and intensely coloured by our personal experiences, histories, and emotions, our values and beliefs, which creates context and connections that the artist could never have dreamed of. If knowing something about a photograph, like the fact that it was taken by a monkey, enhances your experience of the piece, why shouldn’t it add value? After all, all art is worth exactly what someone is willing to pay for it – no more, no less.

What to you think? Did this monkey create great art, or just a funny story? Tell us what you think in the comments below.

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2 Comments

  1. Steve Mc says:

    Rumor has it that the Chicago Sun-Times is hiring chimpanzees to replace the recently fired staff photographers, but they are having problems finding enough chimps with their own iPhones who are willing to work for peanuts.

  2. DavePhotog says:

    “Does a photograph become more valuable depending on who is behind the viewfinder?”

    Obviously, you have never priced a ManRay, Lartiquee, Atget, Brassai, or Ansel Adams print have you?

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