Spinello Gallery Sells $5,000 Washing Machine

At the Design District art walk this month, hordes of collectors and attenuated hipsters streamed in and out of Spinello Gallery. Mucho dinero collector Marty Margulies was there; so was Miami Art Museum board member and collector Dennis Scholl.

They mixed uneasily with the hoi polloi at the opening of "Feels Like Home" by Miami Shores native Lee Materazzi.

The show consisted of 15 portraits and a video of the artist making a smoothie. But in the middle of the cold gray room stood the pièce de resistance: a fully functioning Kenmore washing machine and clothesline titled Mother. Price: $5,000 for the whole enchilada.

"Wouldn't it be amazing if someone put this in their living room?" owner Anthony Spinello said, tossing back his curls. But the bargain doesn't stop there! For five grand, the buyer would also get the tiny shelf above the machine, the three All detergent bottles artfully placed there, a laundry basket, and clothespins!

Materazzi came up with the idea for Mother after taking pictures of her mom, a real estate agent who still offers to do the 27-year-old artist's dirty laundry when she returns home. "It got me thinking about altering domestic chores," she says.

So Materazzi went to Sears, bought the Kenmore -- "a standard icon in people's minds" that retails for $1,000 tops -- and hired plumbers to install the instant work of art. "The guys who did it were very smart and made it all happen," she says.

She and Spinello picked out a shelf and that, they installed it themselves.

Readymades -- found objects designated as art -- have been around since 1917, when Marcel Duchamp turned a porcelain urinal upside down and called it Fountain. In the 1960s, the Italian artist Piero Manzoni came up with the ultimate readymade: his own poop, which he packaged in 30-gram cans and called Merde Artista. But while Fountain fetched $1.8 million at auction in 1999, the originals weren't made for commercial purposes. The artist gave them to friends, and all the originals were lost, says gallery owner and Duchamp expert Francis Naumann.

And the point of Manzoni's piece was to mock the gullibility and pretensions of the art world. His argument is as true in today's atomized market of high-sky prices as it was then: in 2002 the Tate Gallery in London paid $33,000 for one of his adorable cans of shit.

As for the sticker price of her piece, Materazzi says it's fair given its size. "We wanted to make it accessible to people," she says. "I think it would just take a person with the right perspective. I'm hoping that it finds a good home sooner or later."

So far, Spinello says, no takers.

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Erik Maza