The Critique-Profiteering Work of MSCHF

LOS ANGELES — The Brooklyn-based art collective MSCHF (pronounced “mischief”) is known for its controversial forays into fashion. Since its founding in 2018, MSCHF has gained a significant following for its online “drops,” or scheduled releases of limited-edition products meant to spark public discourse around consumer culture. Those who are chronically online may remember the Astro Boy-inspired “Big Red Boots” (2023) that took over last year’s New York Fashion Week or the tendentious “Satan Shoes” (2021) that prompted Nike to file a lawsuit against the collective.

MSCHF’s current exhibition at Perrotin conjures an eerie feeling of tiptoeing around a minefield. The show features a wall of (mostly fake) Picasso sculptures, a series of painted-over Old Master dupes, and a graffitied Chrysler PT Cruiser. Combining the provocative spirit of internet trolling, clickbait scamming, and MTV’s Punk’d (2003–07), Art 2 assembles the collective’s recent works to critique the art world while simultaneously profiting from it.

Installation view of MSCHF, “Possibly Real Copy Of ‘Poisson’ By Pablo Picasso” (2024), wood, graphite, 1 3/8 × 3 15/16 × 3/4 inches
Installation view of MSCHF, Art 2

The series Possibly Real Copy Of ‘Poisson’ by Pablo Picasso (2024) comprises a wall of 250 wooden fish sculptures that purportedly contains one original Picasso (valued at $50,000) mixed at random among 249 MSCHF forgeries. As part of MSCHF’s Museum of Forgeries project, the collective made all 250 works publicly available online, each priced at $500, with the allure that one lucky winner will hit the jackpot. By offering the works at a relatively affordable price on an easily accessible platform, the group supposedly democratizes access to art ownership while critiquing the art world’s excessive focus on authenticity to justify a work’s value. As part of this concept, the real winner will never know they struck gold — MSCHF claims the original “Poisson” (1954) by Picasso is an “undiscovered work” with no provenance (although Redditors dug up its auction records). This dubious backstory is the only provenance mentioned on the collective’s website: “This wooden fish, made, reportedly, as a gift for P’s housekeeper, a sort of handmade holiday bonus, is a sculpture. And who can say otherwise?” Depending on whether this authentic Picasso exists, all 250 “co-owners” may just be part of an elaborate internet scam — but perhaps that isn’t of concern to these innovative art collectors who forgo traditional methods of art market participation.

The evolving role of women in art history is another evocative subject on display. The series Animorph Paintings (all 2024) reinterprets works by artists such as Michaelangelo, Botticelli, and Takashi Murakami while taking inspiration from David Mattingly‘s cover illustrations for the book series Animorphs (1996–2012). In “Murakillendorf’s Venus,” the “Venus of Willendorf” (c. 24,000–22,000 BCE) takes on various transformative states in its evolution into Takashi Murakami’s “Hiropon” (1997). While Venus’s overemphasized breasts and pubic area have led scholars to believe she may have symbolized a fertility goddess, Murakami’s “Hiropon” is shown expelling a stream of milk from exaggerated breasts, the imagery inspired by erotic elements of anime and manga. Although these works were created by artists millennia apart, their comparability points to how female sexuality has remained a constant subject in art history and has since become a large saleable part of contemporary media. 

Considering the exhibition as a whole, MSCHF might not be maintaining a safe enough distance from the art world after all. While MSCHF criticizes those who engage in consumerism, its use of scarcity models to arbitrarily inflate the cost of its products contradicts its ethos. At the detriment of those who obliviously overlook this hypocrisy, the collective, therefore, profits significantly from the very thing it means to critique.

MSCHF, “Hiropon de Milo” (2024), oil on canvas, 58 3/4 × 47 3/4 × 2 1/4 inches

MSCHF: Art 2 continues at Perrotin (5036 West Pico Blvd, Los Angeles) through June 1.

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