Darren Bader Wants to Sell His Artistic Identity—But Is That Legal?

The artist claims what he's doing is no different from a doctor selling a branded medical practice.

Row of wooden sticks holding up fruit in a gallery
By Art Matters exhibition. Young Zhou. Courtesy of Darren Bader and Andrew Kreps Gallery, New York.

In 2018, conceptual artist Darren Bader, known for his experimentations with ownership, auctioned off his social media handles and the email address behind the accounts. Now Bader is taking it one step further, offering up his own identity as an artist for sale.

“It’s been a good ride. But I don’t have much else to say about art,” said Bader, who has worked in the art world for 20 years, on a website dedicated to his offer. For an estimated price in the low millions, one lucky buyer will become the new Darren Bader, able to use the artist’s name as they pursue their own career in the field. Bader himself, who also has written books like the 2005 James Earle Scones, claims he plans on leaving the art world and returning to journaling.

He is also giving away several of his works under the sale, which can be sold or destroyed according to the new Bader’s wishes. But the non-material nature of many of his projects, which have included releasing a pair of goats into the Andrew Kreps gallery and setting up a fake gallery booth at Felix L.A., may complicate the offer.

“A lot of his works are conceptual so they might not be available for copyright,” Philippa Loengard, director of Columbia Law School’s Kernochan Center for Law, Media and the Arts, told Observer.

Bader’s art is often about arrangements, assortments of items, meaning and message—concepts and ideas that can’t really be sold, she said. “But anything can be traded if you have a willing buyer and a willing seller,” added Loengard. “If someone wants to buy something that is really nothing but is being called something, then congratulations to both parties on the transaction of nothing.”

More guidance will be provided when Bader releases his contract for the proposed sale. An eight-page document written up by lawyer David Steiner, who creates art under the name Alfie Steiner, will be released in the next few weeks in an issue of the online journal Triple Canopy, as reported by The New York Times.

Will artwork from a brand-new Darren Bader still sell?

Signing over one’s professional name isn’t all that uncommon, according to Leila Amineddoleh, a New York-based art attorney. “Any business that’s been around 70 to 80 years is no longer run by the original founder which bears the name,” she told Observer.

Bader makes a similar argument on his website, comparing his offer, which has a deadline of mid-July, to sales of medical, law and accounting practices.

“But what is so unusual here is that the consuming public knows that he’s no longer the person creating the artwork,” Amineddoleh told Observer. “There’s value in his name and he’s diluting the value.”

It will be interesting to see how the market responds if someone actually ends up assuming Bader’s artistic identity, said Amineddoleh, who believes Bader’s offer and contract is itself a piece of conceptual artwork. “This is an artist playing with concepts of what’s a label, what is authorship, what is the value of having a name associated with someone.”

The offer also raises technical questions about what it means to become the artist, who is represented by four galleries including Manhattan’s Andrew Kreps Gallery. “We’re very much in uncharted territory, I’ve never done anything like this,” Kreps told Observer, adding that he is still trying to wrap his head around the concept.

“Theoretically it sounds wonderful, I’d love to continue working with Darren Bader,” said the gallery owner. But Kreps isn’t sure whether that Bader will be the artist he’s worked with for more than a decade, or someone entirely new. “I don’t know what it would be. When I get to that bridge, I’ll work on crossing it.”

Bader did not respond to requests for comment. Darren Bader Wants to Sell His Artistic Identity—But Is That Legal?