Treasure or Trash? Artist Says It's in the Packaging Artist Justin Gignac began putting garbage into boxes and selling them for as much as $100 to poke fun at the notion of value. A second project involves selling paintings of objects for the price of the item depicted. It's gotten him fancy dinners, video games and more.
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Treasure or Trash? Artist Says It's in the Packaging

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Treasure or Trash? Artist Says It's in the Packaging

Treasure or Trash? Artist Says It's in the Packaging

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

Back now with Day to Day and more about the value of art. What if that art is actually garbage, and I mean garbage. There's an artist in New York City who's actually making sculptures out of trash, and people are buying it.

Mr. JUSTIN GIGNAC (Artist): Hi, I'm Justin Gignac, and I'm an artist.

Ms. CHRISTINE SANTORA (Art Director): I'm Christine Santora, and I'm an art director.

Mr. GIGNAC: Yeah, I sell garbage, which sounds kind of weird. Everything is kind of typical of what you find blowing around the streets, whether it's a coffee cup or, you know, a crushed beer can or a broken beer bottle or someone's handwritten post it note of directions. I spend time to make sure each one compositionally looks appealing, but besides that, it's garbage. Each cube is three and a half inches square at the base and four and a half inches tall. And then when I put the trash in, it's got the label that says garbage of New York City. And then I seal the top shut, so it doesn't open or smell. There's a small sticker with the date that the garbage was picked, and then I sign and number each one on the bottom as part of the series.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. GIGNAC: It all started from, when I was in college, I had a summer internship at MTV. And we were having a discussion about the importance of package design. And someone dared mention that they thought package design wasn't important. So I figured, the only way to prove them wrong would be to try to package something that absolutely nobody in their right mind would ever want to buy. So I kind of thought about it for a few minutes and stared down into Times Square and was like, oh, garbage. Obviously, people don't want it, so let me see if I can package it in a way that's appealing for someone to buy. And now I've sold over 1,000 cubes to people in over 45 states and 25 countries. So I think I kind of proved my point.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. GIGNAC: It's funny, when I first started, I wasn't sure, how much do you charge for garbage? So I figured 10 dollars was pretty fair, so I set out and was selling it for 10 dollars for about a year or two. And then I realized, that's a lot of work for 10 dollars, and I was getting a lot of sales. So I raised the price to 25 dollars to try to curb the sales a little bit. They kept selling and then, about a year later, I raised the price to 50 dollars, and they still sell. But it's kid of funny to see people's perception. When initially they were 10 dollars, they were kind of like a gag gift and, you know, a little bit of a joke. And then, as the price grew, now that they are 50 dollars and 100 dollars, people started discussing them as art more, which, there's nothing different about the garbage except the price, but people's perceptions have completely changed.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. GIGNAC: This Summer, Christine and I have been talking about doing a project together for a while.

Ms. SANTORA: We were talking about painting together, just in general, and started talking about what we would do with the paintings and selling them and what we would use the money for. And it would basically just be to try to make some extra money to get all these little things we want, but maybe our pay checks aren't going to buy and then kind of we had this idea, wait a minute...

Mr. GIGNAC: Why don't we be honest?

Ms. SANTORA: Yeah.

Mr. GIGNAC: So we started selling paintings of things that we want and then sell the painting for the price of the real item. It's funny how much you actually have to analyze what you want if you're going to put a few hours or a couple days into painting it. So we definitely are very selective about the things that we paint. You really got to want it. It makes you stop and think, do I want this video game that badly that I'm going to spend a couple days painting it? And it's like usually it is. Yeah, it's worth it.

Ms. SANTORA: And sometimes it works out where, we're actually losing money when we paint a three dollar painting and the canvas actually cost us eight dollars, but its just fun for us and kind of try to keep everything not so serious and just a fun way of doing art that, you know, takes yourself very lightly.

Mr. GIGNAC: We liked playing with that idea of what people find valuable. People have this preconceived notion about certain things, and how much they should be, whether it's art or how much garbage shouldn't cost. And it's fun to kind of poke fun at that a little bit and test that. I think it'd be great if we have a gallery show at some point to do like a six foot by eight foot painting of a taco and still charge a dollar 99 for it because that's how much a taco costs. So it's fun to just play with that and people's perceptions of how much things should be and kind of experimenting with what people are actually willing to pay for it.

BRAND: A little music by Moby. That story was produced by Brad Linder. And to see what a cube of trash looks like, you can check it out at our website npr.org.

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