Cynthia Daignault Killed Off Her Own Painting. For Art, Obviously.

The artist burned her own painting during Art Basel and threw a funeral in its memory. RIP young still life, we hardly knew ye.

Cynthia Daignault

Dearly beloved, let us pause and reflect on the life and times of a painting that died too soon. The young still life was acquired just a year ago at the NADA art fair here in Miami, but it never got to enjoy a life like that of so many of its contemporaries. It will never sit in storage of the collection of a mid-level American art museum. Its hope of one day being sold for triple its original value at auction were cruelly dashed. Perhaps most tragically of all, it never even got a chance to pull together the interior decorating scheme of a collector’s brand new Montauk home.

The fate of the first painting in Daignault’s “Everyone You Ever Loved Will Die” series was instead dropped into a fire set inside an aluminum trash can on a fishing boat dubbed “Another Reward” as it chugged through Miami’s Biscayne Bay on Friday night.

Daignault, whose work ties together traditional figurative painting with heady conceptual ideas, planned it that way.

“The idea was that all pieces will eventually be destroyed,” she said “Everything will die eventually. These just announce the date of their destruction, which in some ways is a proactive role on the painting’s part by choosing the date that it will leave the world.” (Daignault’s Light Atlas is on view at Lisa Cooley in New York through Dec. 20.)

Courtesy of the artist and Lisa Cooley, New York.

The painting was the first of five small painting in the series. Each depicts a set of flowers sitting in a simple jar, but a blossom goes missing as the series continues until only one is left (Each painting was presented with a plaque underneath announcing the date of its destruction). Daignault intentionally designed them to be seductive to art fair buyers. Even though without the conceptual performance behind it the paintings still meditate on death and loss, it would have been easy to see them adorning a collector’s hallway.

“It was playing a little bit with that notion that we buy pieces at an art fair, in a commodities sense, with the hope that they’ll accrue value,” the artist continued “These are literally losing value year by year as the piece itself is unraveling as you own it.”

In many ways, Art Basel Miami Beach week is as much about collecting experiences as it is art. Invites to exclusive dinners are perhaps more coveted than Damien Hirst pieces, which most couldn’t afford anyway. So the painting didn’t leave this world without a ceremony. The collector who bought the piece may not actually get to keep his five paintings, but he had bought himself five events.

Daignault, dressed in a brightly embroidered liturgical dress and a crown of flowers, personally passed out kazoos and wooden percussive sticks to the crowd. She requested a soundscape for the painting’s goodbye. As it turns out Daignault can add master kazoo player to her resumé alongside painter, writer and curator. Few others managed to get the hang of it.

She dropped the painting into the trashcan as the boat passed the Port of Miami, a hub of international trade. Her background at the moment was a wall of colorful shipping containers stamped “Chinese Shipping.”

The painting would not go out of the world alone. Daignault has passed out index cards and asked guests to write something they wished to say goodbye to. “Tonight is about letting go and being free,” she announced.

The cards were dropped one by one into the fire as guests continued beating on the rhythm sticks. Next, white peonies, the first flower to go missing from the piece, were handed out. Daignault read Mark Strand’s poem “The End,” and requested that the flowers be dropped into the bay.

By that point the boat’s view was of Miami’s ever expanding downtown skyline. The newer starchitect-designed towers shimmered in the moonlight. Much like the art at the fairs, the units in those buildings are acquired by the world’s elite as commodities. Like the peonies that has been passed out they too risk the fate of one day sinking into the bay. What better place to meditate on the fleeting nature of both life and the power, objects and money we accrue during it then the coastline of a city most endangered by climate change?

“The thing that will remain is the idea and the experience and the memory, and that the object part is the least important part,” Daignault said earlier of the performance. “It’s sort of disempowering the object and empowering the experience and human interaction and these events that will be social each time that we do it.”

The final piece in the series is scheduled for destruction in exactly 100 years. Daignault reminded us that every single person on the boat will be dead by then.