Does Having a World Record Make You an Artist? We Asked Guinness World Records
From the biggest bottle cap sculpture to the most expensive painting ever made by an elephant...
The world’s largest cheese sculpture was made by cheese sculptor Troy Landwehr and San Francisco based fast food restaurant The Melt in September 2015. Credit: Guinness World Records.
Art, so often associated with inaccessibility, high brows, or market value, may be a small space that few enjoy or understand. Those "in the know" see prizes and awards like Turner, Frieze, or Bucksbaum as a way of marking these achievements, celebrating those artists who have managed to break through to a committee of people that the wider population has probably never heard of. Yet there’s another organization who holds influence in selecting the best and the brightest, or rather, the smallest to the biggest—Guinness World Records.
“We have hundreds of artwork records, covering sculptures, mosaics and paintings,” says a representative from The Guinness World Book of Records, an annual publication documenting ‘human achievements and the extremes of the natural world’. “We are constantly working to research and inspire new artistic achievements. I wouldn’t say that our records are strange but they are unique, for example, the 'largest cheese sculpture' is of a burger.”
While there’s no doubt that some pieces found in contemporary art are bizarre, at first glance, Guinness World Records’ listed art accomplishments are equally peculiar. From the largest chocolate candy sculpture, to the largest art installation made from coat hangers, Guinness World Records situates their 40,000-plus records over the people suggesting new ones, or from those attempting to beat already established feats. “These tend to be for artworks that are made out of everyday items, such as the largest lunchbox mosaic,” explains Guinness World Records. “We also have researched records, which we monitor by looking at art institutions and experts to verify, like the oldest sculpture, painting, and largest displays of famous artists’ work.”
Extremities seem to be the overriding theme within Guinness World Records-worthy art, be they in size, length, or mass, but whether or not these diverse, seemingly scattered bodies of work can stand alone, outside of Guinness’ yearly print edition, makes the franchise’s definition of art a bit more complicated. “People will go to see any old nonsense if its promoted correctly and has the right 'Art Speak' to back it up,” says Garry Vanderhorne of London’s Resistance Gallery. For him, putting a Guinness Art World Record in a gallery, “depends on the art and the impetus or reach beyond the world record.”
Since its inception in 1955, Guinness World Records has turned into a household name, noted as "the biggest selling copyright book of all time." That sort of influence—one that gains global media attention, also reaching television screens, the internet, and a chain of museums—is a sort of channel that many artists dream of.
Yet for two-time Guinness World Record holder Jonty Hurwitz, who boasts both the "smallest sculpture of human form" and the "smallest animal sculpture," the Guinness World Records franchise was an afterthought to his artistic practice. “They’re trying to amaze and awe people, but I suppose to some extent, they look for an element of marketing value to sell their books,” says Hurwitz. “I think they contacted me because it was a world record and it would amaze people, plus it’s good photos.”
Hurtwitz agrees with Vanderhorne, telling The Creators Project that, “Guinness on its own isn’t enough—the art world is looking for another layer. But I suppose someone with a bit of creativity could mangle some angle that resonates with people.” That being said, some record holders don’t think they’d have obtained their achievement without Guinness, like printmaker Steven McKenzie, who in October 2013, led a team of artists to create the world’s largest monotype print.
“Guinness is all about the biggest, the longest, the most, whatever,” says McKenzie. “You can’t help but be attracted by that idea. In the field of arts, though, they sort of limit the category.” A narrow canvas maybe, but what Guinness World Records does do successfully is engage a global community of artists and non-artists alike, using creative endeavors to bring people together.
“A lot of the artwork records that are applied for are by small communities, talking about issues that matter to them, be it making the world a greener place or raising awareness about diseases,” says Guinness World Records. “By working together with communities and art institutions we hope to celebrate artistic achievements in all walks of life.”
Explore the Guinness World Book of Records or try to set your own here.