Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Brown Bag Test, December 21, 2014, Proof and Counterproof

Anders Bergstrom (American, born Tucson, Arizona, 1971)
Anders Bergstrom (American, born Tucson, Arizona, 1971)
Anders Bergstrom (American, born Tucson, Arizona, 1971)
Scraping and soft-ground etching
each: 3 1/2 × 2 × 1 1/4 in. (8.9 × 5.1 × 3.2 cm)
Credit Line:
Gift of David K. Ray, 2015
Accession Number:
Not on view
Anders Bergstrom makes art that challenges the viewer to reexamine his or her connections to the detritus of everyday life, as well as his or her expectations for works of art. Mining the trompe l’oeil tradition, Bergstrom skillfully makes etchings that visually imitate brown paper bags. By using one of the most traditional and respected printmaking methods to create works that resemble something people encounter daily—either new at the store or stained, ripped and destined for garbage--he forces the viewer to examine these objects with new eyes. The flat-bottomed brown paper bag, whose invention is dated between 1870 and 1880 and credited to both Charles Stilwell of Union Paper Bag Machine Co. and Margaret E. Knight, of the Columbia Paper Bag Company (the latter of whom was the first woman to receive a patent), is a designed object that has been included in exhibitions at The Museum of Modern Art. In Brown Bag Test, December 21, 2014 Proof and Counterproof, Bergstrom not only makes prints whose tone and texture mirror that of brown paper bags, but he folds and assembles the printed paper into small bags, measuring 3 ½ x 2 x 1 1/." The reduction in scale reveals that the bags are a construction, as opposed to his pined works that closely resemble actual bags. The latter are in the spirit of Marcel Duchamp’s readymade, that is, an object that exists in the everyday world that has been chosen by the artist and removed from its quotidian existence and function, placed instead in a space (such as a gallery, museum, or collector’s home) associated with fine art. Because of this placement, the mass produced work selected by the artist becomes read as an artwork, while also disturbing and challenging the more traditional works in that, regardless of form and materials, they were conceived of as works of art since their inception. Bergstrom, however, meticulously creates twenty-three different bags, realized as proofs and counterproofs, to total forty-six three-dimensional prints. The twenty-three colors range from nearly white to almost a complete black, thus showing a range of brown tones. When displayed, the works run from light to dark, mimicking the effect of a rainbow or spectrum. The title of the work, the multiple pieces, and the concept also refer to "the brown bag test," that is, a discriminatory practice in which an individual’s skin was judged against the tone of a brown paper bag. Because Bergstrom does not privilege one bag over another, however, he interrupts the test by not providing the bag or the tone against which the others are to be judged.
David K. Ray; Donor: David K. Ray
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Drawings and Prints: Selections from the Permanent Collection," October 25, 2016–January 30, 2017.

Related Objects

Tiger, Pinned

Artist: Anders Bergstrom (American, born Tucson, Arizona, 1971) Date: 2012 Medium: Soft ground etching and steel pins Accession: 2015.629 On view in:Not on view

Tiger, Dirty, Pinned

Artist: Anders Bergstrom (American, born Tucson, Arizona, 1971) Date: 2012 Medium: Two-color, two-plate soft ground etching and aquatint, with steel pins Accession: 2015.628 On view in:Not on view

The Frugal Repast

Artist: Pablo Picasso (Spanish, Malaga 1881–1973 Mougins, France) Date: 1904, printed 1913 Medium: Etching Accession: 23.31.1 On view in:Not on view