"The Verdict" by Dan Wolgers from the Tom Böttiger Collection
"The Verdict" is one of Dan Wolgers' most renowned artworks, and it secured its place in Swedish art history the moment it was signed. However, simultaneously, it was torn from its actual context and into its realm, where myth and reality gradually merged. Here, Dan Wolgers has, in his own words, compiled the background to this legendary ready-made:
In the spring of 1992, Liljevalchs invited about twenty Swedish artists to participate in a group exhibition scheduled to open in November of the same year. The exhibition was titled "Se människan," which translates to "Behold the Man," the words Pontius Pilate uttered when he presented the scourged Jesus to the roaring crowd just before the crucifixion. It is tempting to interpret the title as if the art hall considered itself to be presenting (consecrated) art to an uncomprehending audience.
For the vernissage, an exhibition catalog was to be compiled with a simple presentation of the participating artists. I accepted the invitation, aware of the conditions regarding exhibition compensation that prevailed at the time. The concept of exhibition compensation did not exist yet (it wasn't until 2009 that the so-called MU agreement was signed between the state and several artistic organizations). In 1992, and probably still in practice, artists negotiated individually with the organizers (in this case, Liljevalchs) and competed with each other for compensation until the exhibition's meager budget was exhausted. Those who received grants could get one or two thousand Swedish kronor. Still, typically, the organizer claimed that it was sufficient compensation for the artists to have the opportunity to exhibit their works for free. In practice, the artist at the bottom of the chain funded the art hall's mission to showcase art to the public with their money and labor.
I decided that I wouldn't subject myself or the exhibition commissioner to humiliating negotiations for money this time.
It wasn't until the exhibition was entirely hung the day before the vernissage, the benches had been sold, and my space in one of the halls remained empty, that I informed the management that my contribution to the exhibition was that I had, by auctioning off the benches, arranged compensation for my efforts. I had nothing more to contribute than the sign on the wall, which marked my vacant space, even though the sign had been put up by the art gallery and not by me (the sign was stolen a few days later). The management reacted with delight to my contribution and treated me to lunch and dinners to discuss the matter further, as it had spread to the media during the press preview and caused quite a sensation.
When the payment from the Auction House arrived, I bought a fax switch, a device that could distinguish between fax and telephone calls in incoming calls to the studio. It was a timely purchase because I received hundreds of calls daily in my studio due to my telephone directory cover—much of the preparation for the benches involved linking potential developments together as much as possible. For example, any income from the sale of the benches would be reinvested in artistic activities. Therefore, I had decided in advance to purchase the fax switch, but the peculiar thing was that the fax switch cost the same as the benches had finally yielded. Only chance could have arranged this, as it was not possible then, before the digital age, to find a product on the market with a specific price. The receipt is in the Moderna Museet's collections, and the fax switch is in my possession.
Since I had requested that the benches not be placed back in my completed space in the art hall, they were placed in another artist's room on a raised pedestal with a surrounding rope, and the whole thing was surrounded by piles of press clippings about the benches.
During the exhibition, when visitors came to see my empty space and the nail holes from the stolen sign, and the repurchased benches on the catafalque, I was reported to the police by two private individuals, independently of each other. My offense fell under public prosecution, and the prosecutor determined the charge to be embezzlement. I was called in for questioning, provided a detailed account of the factual circumstances, and admitted guilt. Eventually, a trial followed for which I had been assigned a publicly funded defense attorney, but neither of us had anything to add. In the courtroom, there was a school class and some art connoisseurs. The verdict would be delivered at a later date.
And sometime later, I read in the morning newspaper at breakfast that I had been sentenced to sixty daily fines for embezzling the two benches. The sentence was considered lenient, and the reason for leniency was that I had no previous criminal record and was not expected to relapse into crime. Later that same day, a letter from the Stockholm District Court arrived by mail. I assumed it contained the verdict and a payment slip for the fine amount. Since I would soon have a solo exhibition at Galleri Riis in Oslo but lacked the funds to execute what I had planned for the exhibition, I decided to ask the gallery owner to try to sell the unopened envelope to a collector. It worked, and I signed and dated the envelope with today's date, awaiting a reminder invoice regarding the fines from the district court. When the reminder arrived, I paid the fines with the proceeds from the sale, and the surplus amount went towards preparing the exhibition in Oslo.
I moved on, and so did the envelope in its way.
› Tom Böttiger caught on camera after acquiring Dan Wolgers' "The Judgment," 2016.
The work will be sold at Tom Böttiger CollectionEstimate: 300 000 - 400 000 SEK
Viewing September 29 – October 4, Berzelii Park 1, Stockholm
Live Auction October 5, Arsenalsgatan 2, Stockholm
Read more about the auction
To the catalogue