Approximately 10,000 Words On The Ideologico-Economics of Exhibitions

 

by Matthew Poole


 

 

 

There is no doubt that artworks can function as commodities and exhibitions can operate as shop displays and/or more complex marketplaces for artworks. The ongoing ubiquitous and speedily increasing proliferation of art fairs and commercial art galleries, as well as the prodigious increase in auction sales (and saleroom prices) of artworks, is testament enough to this banality. However, to reduce the artwork to the mere status of commodity is to submit to the hopelessness of our current political malaise under the sign of neoliberalism’s obscure and attenuated quasi-Fascistic ideology produced by and through the logic (and/or illogic) of late-stage ‘post-industrial’ capitalism.

 

If the artwork is now only and merely a commodity then we can presume that the edifice of art as schematised by the history of Modernity has collapsed, and there is now no longer any art as such. This may or may not be true. This also, of course, if it is true, may indeed be a good thing as we can then begin the task of sweeping away all the detritus of the failed project of Liberal Humanist Modernity, to start anew with a different paradigm for our engagement with the concept and phenomena we call art.

 

However, close analysis is needed to determine if this state of hopeless affairs really has come to pass, or indeed whether we can determine if it is the right time to begin construction of a new paradigm for art; one which we hope will be impervious to the ravages of the operations of contemporary capitalism and its attendant obscure and attenuated ideology of neoliberalism.

 

One way to begin this sweeping is to ask if artworks really are commodities. No doubt they are produced, we might even say that they are mined from the mind [sic] of the artist, and they are bought and sold, traded and exchanged. Individual collectors buy them, private foundations buy them for their collections and state sponsored museums buy them for the collections of the nation. They are resold and traded in the secondary market and at auction houses, such as Sotheby’s[i]. Some major museums have even used the speculative growth value of their collections as collateral against huge loans to expand their premises and operations; i.e. they have mortgaged their collections.[ii] There are also now investment portfolio schemes in which you can have your money managed by an investment fund company who buys and sells ‘blue-chip’ art to garner profits in the manner of stockbroking. You may never see the art, but you can be proud of the fact that your investment should yield several percentage points above even the best other investment schemes trading in traditional commodities. Also, artists can now provide for their dotage by joining artists’ pension trusts where they promise to give a defined number of artworks to the trust, who in turn promises the financial reward of a pension following retirement.[iii]

 

However, in the terms of a strict classical economics, artworks themselves aren’t commodities as such. A commodity in classical economics is a material or service that is provided by a company, which is indistinguishable from the same material or service provided by any other company selling that particular product. The obvious examples are minerals. Metals, like copper and iron, and non-metallic minerals, such as carbon, phosphorus, sulphur, selenium, and iodine, for example, are extracted from the resources of the Earth, then purified, and then sold, usually in bulk. If you buy a quantity of a given commodity then you are either getting copper or selenium, or whatever, or you aren’t. There are no half-measures, no grey-areas. The value of the commodity is then subject to market forces, which determine its unit price at any given point in time. These market forces include the supply and demand differential, the presumed use/need value, and the changing costs of extraction and purification, such as the changing price of oil, or other commodities, to power and maintain machinery, and the changing cost of living for people working in those industries. It is a relatively simple mechanism.

 

According to this model the artwork itself would not be a commodity as such. However, ‘art’ or ‘arthood’, as such, might very well be a commodity in this model, and one that is imbedded in the artwork. The artwork cannot be a commodity in this model because according to the rules of the system of art that we hold in the West we believe that each artwork is unique, and is therefore different to every other artwork. Not only do we largely hold onto the 19th Century bourgeois myth of the individual author-genius artist (which Terry Atkinson calls ‘the AGMOAS – the avant-garde model of artistic subjectivity’), making the individuated cottage/boutique-industry of art production something of an atomised, alienated and absolutely differentiated field of production, but also these individual producers produce things (i.e. the artworks) which are all different to one another within each individual artistic practice. So, there is a double differentiation of artworks as products of artists in this model: the artist’s practice is differentiated from that of all other artists’ practices, and within each practice all the artworks are differentiated from one another. These are therefore not commodities, in this model, because they are absolutely not fungible.

 

However, within this model, we could say that if an artwork is art, then it must contain some agreed upon qualities or value, or even some function or properties, that distinguish it as art rather than merely as an assembly of the material parts of itself. In order for an artwork to be considered as art, it must contain the properties that allow it to perform (fungibilis) ‘arthood’, as Jeffrey Charles Henry Peacock have called it. Before the collapse of the Beaux-Arts system this fungibility was designated in strict rules of composition, technique, and genre deployed in painting and sculpture (with print works and drawing relegated to not-art status, as they were considered to be preparatory or merely commercial products). These properties could almost be, and sometimes were, literally measured. However, in the avant-garde model of artistic subjectivity, especially since the Readymades of Marcel Duchamp, the fungibility of art has ‘gone airborne’, so to speak, becoming an almost purely immaterial set of properties. So, if you buy an artwork, you are buying a thing that you believe can be mined, or has the capacity to be transformed or purified (perhaps in the mind) into the pure performing fungible form of art (i.e. the commodity ‘arthood’). It’s like buying iron ore. Each lump will contain a different amount of pure iron. So, a painting by Gerhard Richter - often tipped as the number one artist in the world for critical reasons (i.e. lots of well-respected critics, art historians, curators, and other people without these monikers admire his work for various reasons) as much as financial reasons (i.e. his works command huge prices, both in the primary and secondary markets, he sells a lot of them, and a lot of them are resold for even higher prices) – will, it is therefore presumed, contain more of the good stuff (i.e. ‘art’, or ‘arthood’) than, say, a painting by Sandro Chia.

 

But, even though each individual artwork may have a specific ‘‘art’/‘arthood’ quotient’ in this model, at any given time, there is still the matter of extraction or purification. No one values a lump of iron ore just for itself, just because it is there. It has to have the iron smelted out of it for its value to be calculated. So, what are the different types of furnace that can do this smelting of art (or ‘arthood’) from artworks? Well, there is a whole range of apparatuses or technologies available for this purpose. They are essentially material apparatuses/technologies of visibility and/or they are cognitive apparatuses/technologies of analysis, all of which usefully, consistently and constantly double as apparatuses/technologies of valorisation too. If you are investing a lot of money into buying artworks then there is not much point in keeping secret and hidden all of your AGMOAS-produced chattels. One can argue that if artworks are not allowed to be exposed to a community or social group that believes in art then they may not be artworks at all, but mere decorative trinkets. The art (or ‘arthood’) of artworks could be argued to be a specific kind of social function, or ideological apparatus, or vector of ideological force, which if left inactive (i.e. invisible or not disseminated somehow) withers and dies, or at best lays totally dormant and inactive. Art magazines, scholarly journals, collections, and exhibitions are but four examples of such apparatuses/technologies of visibility and/or cognitive apparatuses/technologies of analysis (smelting furnaces for ‘art’/’arthood’ extraction), and it is exhibitions that we are to focus on in this essay.

 

However, in late stage ‘post industrial’ capitalism virtually nothing operates like a commodity in the classical economic model. Almost all commodities are differentiated in some way: minerals are marketed in different ways by different companies, to highlight such things as the ethical character of their labour models, thus differentiating their essentially identical products from those of their competitors; essentially identical coffee beans are differentiated by the locale of their farms, and even the names and faces of their farmers[iv]; bananas, of which there is principally only one commercially grown and marketed type, the ‘Dwarf Cavendish’, are differentiated by any number of factors that are largely unrelated to the actual size, taste, texture and other qualities of the banana itself, which remain mostly consistent across all commercially grown and marketed bananas of this type worldwide[v]; car insurance companies no longer compete on premium costs, but on how short a time it takes for you to complete a quotation online[vi]; and, as is well know, identical pharmaceutical drugs are differentiated by brand name and packaging design. For example, in the USA, you can buy the mild painkiller Tylenol at three times the price of generic acetaminophen. Literally the only difference in these products is whether they have a brand association or not and the relative ‘jazzy-ness’ of their packaging design and advertising campaigns.[vii]

 

Furthermore, in post-Fordian ‘economies of scope’ the process of labour is also simultaneously the process of valorisation, as ‘immaterial labour’ (or ‘affective labour’, or ‘cognitive labour’, as it is sometimes referred to as) occurs at the level of individual and/or quasi-collective subjective modulation. This means effectively that some labour is (potentially) better than others, even if the task performed is identical and yields the same results in the same amount of time with the same consumption of material resources.[viii] Moreover, the qualities that may make the ‘better’ labour better than the so presumed less good labour are entirely and absolutely ineffable, albeit that a material effect follows from their deployment and adherence to their illusory and allusory characteristics. This is the very core of the logic of branding, and it extends both to physical (spatio-temporal) human labour and the immaterial labour of subjective modulation (or affective modulation) now in post-Fordian terms: making it possible for, say, a well-dressed designer (of whatever type – graphic-, interior-, fashion-, architecture-, product-, etc.) to charge more for design work than a scruffy, or even marginally less well-dressed or marginally less trendy designer, for example, even though the tasks they perform may be identical, etc. Or, equally, for the same scruffy designer to be more valuable in the market place for design work than the well-dressed designer so long as he is scruffy ‘in the right way’, has actually read James Franco’s latest book of poems, and perhaps hangs-out with Jonah Hill.

 

In this regard, the art of the AGMOAS has always been ahead of the curve, by about 150 years. Where the more extreme a bohemian lifestyle an artist lived followed a greater force of valorisation of their artwork and hence a greater ‘art’/’arthood’ value was and/or is yielded. The tragic stupidity of the, now mythic, bohemian life of Vincent Van Gogh, for example, or the bizarre egotistical megalomaniac misogynistic nonsense that was the life of Paul Gauguin attest to this powerfully. Tragically, or perhaps mercifully, for Van Gogh he never experienced the full fruits of his ‘immaterial labour’, or ‘affective labour’, lived through the minutiae of his life, but nonetheless his works are now couched in the (arguably sour) limelight of the attendant value that is placed in exotic radically differentiated and individuated subjectivity that his life represents for society now.[ix] Today, for artists, the immaterial labour, or affective labour, that they perform on a daily basis both within and outwith their artistic practices has a significant effect upon both the marketability and the market prices, as well as all other forms of valorisation and valuing of their artwork, albeit that the parameters and specific conditions are now more subtle, and that they are constantly in dynamic flux. In other words, we have reached a point in the socio-cultural ecology of the art world where it is simultaneously both easier and more difficult to discern difference in the figure of the artists and in the operations of the artwork. To quote Heidi Klum’s glib catchphrase, on the TV show Project Runway (albeit that she is working in the fashion industry/television broadcasting industry context): “One day you’re in, the next you are out!” Of course, the opposite is equally true. Artists and artworks are evermore merely the flotsam and jetsam on a turbulent sea of the superficially dynamic yet structurally static culturo-economic hegemony. But, of course, they are also equally powerful yet fragile vectors of ideological force within this themselves. Now, lets be honest, we have all seen friends and colleagues in the art world change their hairstyle, their clothes, their shoes, their circle of friends and acquaintances, their smart-phones, etc. to match the presumably ‘correct’ image that they need to portray to improve their career trajectory and/or the trajectory of the sale prices for their work; the two are inextricably linked, of course. This is no doubt a ubiquitous banality, but in a business where we are supposed to be concerned with the artwork, why is the business of the art world (including critics, historians, curators, and artists themselves as much as gallerists and dealers) so concerned with the artist? It is like post-Structuralism never happened. Strictly speaking though it’s the logic of the Liberal Humanist elements of parts of post-Structuralism playing out perfectly, albeit through the affective modulation of late-stage capitalism’s obscure and attenuated quasi-ideology and its various proliferating vectors of change.[x]

 

In post-Fordian capitalist economics the ‘experience economy’[xi] works alongside and overlaps the ‘economies of visibility’, especially in the art world. Effectively, this means that, in the art world context for sure, but also in other industrial contexts, a quantitative measure of visibility (for example, how many exhibitions an artist’s work has been presented in) for the artwork is not enough on its own to garner and calibrate some form of value for the artwork. The exposure, or visibility, of the artwork has also to be ‘the right kind’ of exposure; and there are numerous ineffable criteria to consider in such equations. Now, this is obvious. But, what is less obvious is that the calculation of what is ‘the right kind’ of exposure for the artwork is also differentially contingent upon the ‘amount’ of exposure that the artwork receives. So, in effect, the amount of exposure that an artwork accrues over its lifetime both is and isn’t directly correlative to the quality or qualities of the exposures it is subjected to and a part of. This collapses the presumed relative difference of quality and quantity of exposure, yet simultaneously upholds an ideologically illusory and allusory (and quasi-structurally operative) notion of the differential between quality and quantity of exposure for the artwork, even though they may be interchangeable, and therefore quasi-fungible, from one moment (or one context) to the next. What this means is that it is practicably impossible to predict how much or what kind of exposure any given artwork needs to attain in order to accrue a certain amount of value at any given point in time and space. So, what this produces is a market place that is, as we have seen, radically diffuse, and one which can be and is only fuelled by radial, constant and consistent uncertainty; i.e. paranoia. In other words, the only thing that we can be certain of in trying to understand the machinations of the wider contemporary art world is that we cannot and will not understand its workings comprehensively and logically at any given point in time and space. However, that is not to say that the machinations of the wider contemporary art world are a mystery, it's just that the contradictions that brought it in to being and sustain it have proliferated and mutated to such a complex and extensive degree that we will never be able to accrue enough specific detail to make a convincing schema of its totality. This is largely because it is now such a dynamic cybernetic system, which has achieved a kind-of quasi-sublime scale and scope. But, equally it is because art of the AGMOAS kind is now purely a reified ideological subject, and within this model of the AGMOAS there is (ironically) no room for dissent, transgression nor critique (albeit that these are its presumed hallmarks) as the model has reified these subject positions ideologically leaving only the hollow-shell of dissent, transgression and critique as simulacra of themselves, which if deployed contribute to the further deepening and strengthening of the reification process.

 

So, to look at this problem from a slightly different angle, under the operations of contemporary capitalism, in ‘economies of scope’ and within ‘experience economies’ and ‘economies of visibility’, even the ‘art quotient’ of any given artworks is and is not fungible (as per the classical economic model) at any given moment in time or space. It’s a kind of quasi-ideological ‘quantum uncertainty principle’ at work. Different artworks will have both different and the same qualities of ‘art’/‘arthood’ at any given moment in time relative to any other artwork. They will at any given moment in time and space contain ‘art’/’arthood’ that is both the same and different both qualitatively and quantitatively according to the vast variety of ineffable criteria that figure in the calculations of a market so vast and complex as to be incomprehensible to any human consciousness. So, the price/criticality/popularity differential between the paintings of Gerhard Richter and Sandro Chia are, under this other more dynamic and unstable model, no longer calibrated on a scale of how much or how little ‘art’/’arthood’ they are presumed to contain, but rather that they contain palpably different types and qualities of ‘art’/’arthood’, and, at the same time, they contain relatively more or less of the quantity of ‘art’/’arthood’ that they are presumed to contain. This is both good and bad news for poor old Sandro Chia. It means that his works will perhaps never climb that ladder again, and he may never be on top of his game in the way that Richter continues to be. Chia and his work may be indelibly tainted with effects of the price crash that Charles Saatchi instigated in the 1980s after he sold off a large number of works by the Italian neo-Expressionist Transavantguardia artist that he held in his private collection. However, who knows? The pathos of the ironies and contradictions of contemporary capitalism make any strange and deranged permutation of vectors of value possible, we may indeed see Chia’s work fiscally/critically/otherwise ‘reputationally’ rehabilitated under the sign of some kind of ironic neo-ultra-conservative forward/backlash in the art market or wider art world. In the end, in the art market (and in the wider art world) it’s all the same as long as there is profit to be made, obviously! To paraphrase François Lyotard, the delicate nature of morality and ethics are moot when there is profit to be had.

 

So, we have to consider whether there is a stable calibrated ‘art quotient’ that artworks contain or whether there is a hyper-dynamic flux of atomised and quasi-alienated qualities and quantities of ‘art-quotients’ out there in artworks. More to the point, we have to consider this decision as a matter of individual and collective will. Of course, there may be other models that dialectically synthesise these two models, or break apart the possible relation between these two models via a process of negative dialectics. The matter at hand is to ask how artists and curators are to deal with the consequences of the contradictions of each of these models, and between them.

 

An artwork is certainly a product, and a product of labour; either physical labour and/or cognitive labour, or we might say material labour and/or immaterial labour. If an object is fashioned by an artist or artists, under the premise that it will be an artwork, then it is fashioned primarily through physical/material labour (such as mixing and applying paint, or manipulating sculptural material, or any physical process of construction and/or assemblage, none of which need necessarily be done by the artist) and it is also valorised (i.e. given a specific ‘art’/’arthood’ value and ‘art’/’arthood’ functionality) via cognitive/immaterial labour. Equally, if a service or activity is fashioned by an artist or artists, under the premise that it will be an artwork, then it is fashioned through physical/material labour (administration, grant writing, choreography of participants’ bodies, etc.) and it is also valorised (i.e. given a specific ‘art’ value and ‘art’ functionality) via cognitive/immaterial labour. In all cases of the production of the artwork, of whatever kind (whether primarily material, as with paintings and sculpture for example, or whether primarily immaterial, as with Socially-Engaged practices and Relational Aesthetics practices, for example), the valorisation process occurs before, during and after any physical labour process. Many factors play into this complex process of valorisation: the schooling of the artists involved; their network of associates; their track-record of grants, awards, residencies, publications, and reviews; the history of the prices previous works have fetched; the reputation of the collections in which their work is held; the art schools they have taught at; the critico-historical value of the exhibitions they have been involved with; the reputation of the curators they have worked with; the reputations and track-records of the galleries that they have shown at; etc., etc. But equally, there are elements such as: how well liked the artists are; what clothes they wear; what brand of computer and smart-phone they use; what restaurants they eat at; what fashion shows they are invited to; which charity ‘dos’ they attend; and even what TV shows they have been guests on (I’m thinking here mostly of Tracey Emin’s mid-career earnest drunken antics on British TV in the 1990s[xii], and the very recent slightly smug and self-righteous appearance of Theaster Gates on The Colbert Report in the USA). All of these elements, lets call them apparatuses, bring a pool of socio-economic amniotic fluid that has a complex network of vectors of valorisation, into which the artwork is inserted, giving it a certain value relative to its position in and/or near such vectors, or lines of force. We can safely say then that the artwork has a certain speculative value (whether this is strictly fiscal value, or reputational value, or some other form of capital value) even before it is fashioned and materialised, and this value fluctuates both before and after the materialisation of the artwork itself (i.e. the artwork also affects the matrix of vectors of force actively and/or passively). The value of the given artwork, however, remains entirely speculative at every stage of its production (that is, both before, during and after its production), because its production has no clear beginning, middle or end. The artwork under this complex model is an illusion, and an allusion, to itself and to ‘art’/’arthood’ as a category at every stage of its existence and/or non-existence. The individual artwork, within this model, itself becomes and is always already an ideological apparatus and a reified ideological subject. Furthermore, where once we had considered that the category of art was an apparatus of a given ideological nexus (containing a vast array of artworks, galleries, museums, art magazines, art education establishments, and all other institutions of art, etc.) we are now faced with such a plurality of possible nano-pseudo-ideologies under the sign of the obscure and attenuated quasi-ideology of neoliberalism that each individual artwork is the nano-apparatus of its own fleeting fragile dynamic spatio-temporal nano-pseudo-ideology.

 

Our specific object of interest here, however, is only one of such apparatuses of visibility/valorisation: the exhibition. But we will bear in mind as we proceed, that an exhibition is only the sum of it parts, which includes the artworks and all other vectors of ideological force that make it a possibility.

 

There are, no doubt, many mechanisms by which an artwork can gain visibility or exposure to its audience and/or its market. These apparatuses of visibility include exhibitions, collections, art fairs, magazines, journals, newspapers, blogs, word of mouth, etc. The ‘economies of visibility’ in the art world are an extremely powerful field in which the index value of a given artwork bobs around like so much flotsam and jetsam on a turbulent sea of opinion, and largely, as I described before, paranoia. A website such as www.art-net.com promises that you can minimise your risk of investing in art by, “Create[ing] a report tracking the performance of all artworks by an artist against artnet indices, as well as financial indices. Reports include sell-through rates, price estimates, top prices, and biographical information,” or you can, “Compare sets of artworks from a single artist to illustrate price trends, or combine similar artworks to view the performance of a specific series.”[xiii] They also list artists’ rankings according to all these type of criteria. The sheer vacuous banality of such an endeavour is both hilarious and frightening at the same time. Artnet.com’s services do, however, seem almost anachronistic, as if a throwback to the 1980s (I realise that this isn’t very far to ‘throw back’ to!) when stock-market trading was virtually a fashion statement, as its mechanisms really have no purchase on the sheer complexity, depth (or surface breadth) and the potential power that the minutiae of the artist’s immaterial labour has both within and outwith their practice (i.e. in their work and in their lifestyle/career: which designer shoes they wear, the colour of their socks, the celebrities they hang-out with, etc.).[xiv] For this reason artnet.com will always be behind the curve, unable to help its clients maximise their fiscal investment in art, mostly because their primary objective is fiscal accumulation. They haven’t yet incorporated other forms and types of capital (i.e. other forms of accumulative power) into their business model and function. However, it is likely that it won’t be long before they realise this and adjust their algorithms and parameters to accommodate such vectors. For a start, they could integrate Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. God knows many artists spend hours ‘sharing’ the minutiae of their lives and careers with the world via such social network portals. It’s only a matter of time! So, the ‘economy of visibility’ for a given artwork is far more complex than merely how many exhibitions it has been seen in (assuming they were the ‘right’ ones), how many reviews it gets in magazines and journals, etc. The valorisation process that works in concert with the ‘economy of visibility’ of exhibitions by far exceeds the mere boundaries of the gallery walls. However, we are going to stick to thinking about exhibitions here in this essay, to at least see how complex an apparatus they are in regard to the valorisation of a given artwork.

 

An exhibition operates both like a state and a market. It is not a simple form of valorisation or ideological reification.

 

If we take a state to be the constitution, formation and reification of a given ideology that includes prescribed procedures, aptitudes, attitudes, impedances, and a range of permitted subject-types, all of which operate in tandem and in concert to regulate sets of behaviours and therefore to direct in an orderly fashion various vectors of power, we can see that exhibitions share these qualities and functions of regulation. The model of the nation-state, especially the modern nation-state is typically analogous to the structure, functions and operations of exhibitions. A website called Global Policy Forum gives a good brief description of the concept of the nation-state:

 

Some see a "state" as an ancient institution, going back to Rome, Greece and before, and theorized by Plato, Aristotle and other classical philosophers. Others insist on the unique features of the modern state, with its extensive rule of law, citizenship rights, and broad economic and social responsibilities. A state is more than a government; that is clear. Governments change, but states endure. A state is the means of rule over a defined or "sovereign" territory. It is comprised of an executive, a bureaucracy, courts and other institutions. But, above all, a state levies taxes and operates a military and police force. States distribute and re-distribute resources and wealth, so lobbyists, politicians and revolutionaries seek in their own way to influence or even to get hold of the levers of state power. States exist in a variety of sizes, ranging from enormous China to tiny Andorra. Some claim a long lineage, while others are of modern construction. In all but the short term, states are in flux. They expand and contract as military and political fortunes change. Some, like Poland, even disappear and re-appear later. Or, they may be divided up (sometimes peacefully) by communities that prefer to go their separate ways (Czechoslovakia). Others, such as Iraq, may be occupied or run as a colony or protectorate. States can also "fail" - their governing institutions collapse due to civil war and internal strife (as in Somalia) or because the state has little authority outside the capital city (Afghanistan). While globalization and regional integration (like the European Union) challenge the state's powers, the state is still the dominant arena of domestic politics as well as the primary actor in international relations.

Some states occupy a unique status in the international community of states, due to a very small population or very small land area, but usually both. Microstates, or small states and territories (SSTs) are sovereign state and enjoy a disproportionately large influence in the United Nations General Assembly thanks to the one state, one vote rule. Experimental States, such as Sealand, Freedom Ship, Cyber Yugoslavia are among the hundreds of experimental states that people have founded in order to avoid taxation, feel independent, or to create a tourist attraction.[xv]

 

So, an exhibition can be said to be a bounded territory (even if it is dispersed across various locations and times) within which certain prescribed procedures, aptitudes, attitudes, impedances, and a range of permitted subject-types operate in tandem and in concert to regulate sets of behaviours and therefore direct in an orderly fashion various vectors of power. To put it simply, exhibitions happen in specific space and times even if these are dispersed, such as Okwui Enwezor’s 2002 Documenta 11, which took place over the course of effectively a year and a half at five different ‘platforms’ across the globe:

 

Comprised of a constellation of five platforms, realized on four continents over the span of eighteen months between March 2001 and September 2002, Documenta11 extends in substantive, spatial and temporal terms beyond the traditional 100 days format of past documenta exhibitions.[xvi]

 

To undertake the regulation of sets of behaviours (i.e. to ensure the legible accommodation of both familiar and foreign material - both physical and/or immaterial - into the institution of ‘art’/’arthood’ in order that that material become sensible as artwork, rather than as merely material) and to direct in an orderly fashion various vectors of power (i.e. to ensure that proper recognition of distributive vectors of power – such as authorship, or ownership, etc. – are carried out in a way that preserves and further reproduces their power and characteristics) exhibitions are comprised of, variously, places and spaces (galleries or other sites specially designated), times (length of exhibitions and opening hours), selectors/judges (curators, trustees of organisations, etc.), authors (artists, curators, essay writers, etc.), participants both active and passive (artists, curators, performers, audience), guards and guardians who may physically guard things (security guards, invigilators, ‘gallery girls’[xvii], or walls or barriers), or who guard against misinterpretations (press offices, PR agents, caption writers, wall-text writers), documentarians (photographers, videographers, catalogue publishers and essay writers, newspaper and journal art reviewers), financiers (CEOs, directors, trustees, grant-making trusts, NGOs, government agencies), and so on. These together in combination, in various permutations, form the executive, the bureaucracy, the courts, the police force, the military, the education system, etc. of the sovereign territory of the quasi-state of the exhibition. Now, we are told, and we believe, that states have the right, and indeed it is a principal function of them, to levy taxes and to distribute resources and wealth. The exhibition as state model sees the levy of taxes in the form of divesting its subjects (mostly the audience, but other subjects also like artists, curators, and others) of time and attention as a form of payment. Obviously, some exhibitions charge entry fees, but this is a less complex form of taxation in this regard and falls more ready into the category of policing of the exhibition. The payment of time and attention is the real taxation at work here in exhibitions. And the wealth that is distributed following the levying of such taxation is the wealth of both aesthetic pleasure, and perhaps more importantly the twin ideological stalwarts of ideological categorisation of matter (both material and immaterial) and the promise of knowledge in the form of understanding. In other words, exhibitions attempt to distribute knowledge of and about art by exhibiting artworks and allowing/regulating the mechanisms through which that experience or activity takes place at first-hand. Now, this aspect of the ‘first-hand’ is very important, as it constitutes one of the key ideological cornerstones of a Western conception of the AGMOAS-produced artwork and its relation to a presumed value of ‘art’/’arthood’ and artworks for society. The widely held belief in the power of the prima facie contact with artworks as the most reliable and complete experience of what they offer (perhaps ‘art’ and/or ‘arthood’) is the reason for the continued existence of exhibitions of artworks as we know them and as we have known them, and the expansion of different types of exhibition that we have seen burgeoning ostensibly since the 1960s (exhibitions in galleries of different configurations and modalities, site-specific artworks, time-based and performance exhibitions, exhibitions online and in other time-based media, printed media as exhibition spaces, not to mention the proliferation of art fairs, pre-auctions exhibitions, open-house corporate collection exhibitions, private home exhibitions, etc.). As we have seen so far, however, we are already very uncertain as to the location of the ‘art’/’arthood’ that we believe to be in the art-ore that is an artwork. Yet, the insistence of the prevalence of exhibiting artworks as the first and most powerful port of call for ‘art’/’arthood’ persists.

 

Lets us now consider the exhibition, in whatever form, as a market. Markets have various descriptions, but they are constituted by the same constellation of functional operative elements. A market could be described as, “a medium that allows buyers and sellers of a specific good or service to interact in order to facilitate an exchange”[xviii], or:

 

An actual or nominal place where forces of demand and supply operate, and where buyers and sellers interact (directly or through intermediaries) to trade goods, services, or contracts or instruments, for money or barter. Markets include mechanisms or means for (1) determining price of the traded item, (2) communicating the price information, (3) facilitating deals and transactions, and (4) effecting distribution. The market for a particular item is made up of existing and potential customers who need it and have the ability and willingness to pay for it.[xix]

 

One of the more expansive descriptions of a market comes from Wikipedia:

 

A market is one of the many varieties of systems, institutions, procedures, social relations and infrastructures whereby parties engage in exchange. While parties may exchange goods and services by barter, most markets rely on sellers offering their goods or services (including labour) in exchange for money from buyers. It can be said that a market is the process by which the prices of goods and services are established.[xx]

 

Obviously in our case, in the case of exhibitions, our currencies are ‘art’/’arthood’, time, attention, intellectual engagement, reputational value, cultural capital, and so on, rather than money. But equally, these are currencies of value that can be exchanged and traded. Just look at the fiscal value of Facebook or Twitter on the stock market to see how valuable ‘attention’ and ‘engagement’ are, for example. So, as well as ‘economies of visibility’, we are dealing with the very real existence of ‘economies of attention’.

 

Now, first and foremost a market needs a market place, an agora; a meeting place. If an exhibition can and does operate as a market then we can posit that its agora is both the place where the artwork is prima facie encountered, and it is the ‘encounterability’ of the artwork (i.e. the artwork is a significant part of the agora, and not just the ‘good’ or ‘service’ that is provided therein) as such. That an exhibition, in whatever form, takes place in time and space (or at various times and in various spaces) is enough for it to be an agora. But equally, the artwork, if it is believed to contain the valuable ‘art’/’arthood’ that is sought after, is part of the agora. So an exhibition that promises to deliver or make available ‘art’/’arthood’ must be constituted of an artwork or artworks that are believed to contain ‘art’/’arthood’, and the artwork or artworks must be made available to those allowed in to the agora for inspection, in order that a decision can be made freely by the potential ‘buyers’ or ‘receivers’ of said ‘art’/‘arthood’ from the artwork or artworks without explicit coercion. The ‘buyers’ must judge for themselves, or see for themselves. In this way, audiences of art perform ‘autopsies’ (auto + psy = self-seeing, or ‘seeing for oneself’) on the artwork to judge its presumed worth in terms of ‘art’/’arthood’.

 

A market place, as a given territory or place (either physical or nominal), must also have a border or boundary of some form (either material or immaterial), and it must have a portal or gate through which buyers and sellers can be admitted for or barred from entry. In order to perform this regulatory function, the gate necessarily requires a gatekeeper or gatekeepers. Now, it is primarily presumed that curators are the principal gatekeepers in the ‘exhibition as marketplace’ model. In some respects we can agree that curators do perform some of this function; they choose some artworks over others, and they may work to propagate the attention of certain potential audience members.[xxi] However, the gatekeeping functions necessary for exhibitions to operate as marketplaces are far more diffuse and multifaceted than just the roles of the curator. One good example is the very idea of collective group self-image in communities or societies. This kind of thing performs an immaterial gatekeeping function, as in when certain people don’t feel that the art world or the gallery is ‘for them’. However hard museums and galleries try to make their collections and temporary exhibitions ‘accessible’ some people will think and feel that it is simply ‘not for them’. This is obviously a learnt behaviour or thought pattern produced by many and various factors, including, for example, a particular kind of schooling that demonstrates, reflects or otherwise holds no value in art, the negative opinions of friends or family or other acquaintances regarding art, humorous parodies of art in news media, on TV and in movies, and so on. But similarly, there are gatekeeping factors such as the reputation of particular galleries, which they themselves may have actively propagated or simply received passively or even unawares (For example, I will not step foot in Flowers East Gallery in London. I have a relatively well-informed view of the art world, having dedicated two decades of my life to actively working within the realm of contemporary art, and I make an informed choice never to go there, because the artwork that they show is in my view consistently very poor quality and I believe ideologically deleterious. So Flowers East actively continue to bar my entry to their marketplace as they continue on the same flaccid and banal path that they ever did, selling the rotten fruits of a bankrupt and decaying AGMOAS-inspired ideology.[xxii]). So we can see that these quite simple examples show that gatekeeping for exhibitions stretches far and wide into the subjects of any given society and the social relations that bind its subjects together and simultaneously keep them apart. There are many other factors diffuse and acute, which we could list here, but we should move on, as the point has been made clearly enough. One last thing on this point about gatekeepers though, to bear in mind, is that the gatekeeper(s) perform a regulatory function that is either in concert with the state-like function of the exhibition, or it wrests this state-like function of gatekeeping from the exhibition as state. This is one of the principal tensions/contradictions that exist in the dialectic of state and market that is the exhibition’s ideological and operative structure.

 

A market needs buyers and sellers and goods or services to exchange and a currency or currencies with which the presumed value of the goods can be made equivalent in order that exchange can occur equitable and fairly between the buyers and the sellers. Whilst we might think that, at first glance, the buyers are the audience and the sellers are either the gallery or museum, the artist or artists, the curators, or indeed the artworks themselves (or any combination of these working in tandem and/or in concert), but in late-stage capitalist ‘post-industrial’ societies the buyers and sellers are interchangeable and switch position back and forth at quantum speeds. When money itself is no longer just a currency, as we have seen since the Nixon Shock and the eradication of the Gold Standard, but is also a ‘good’ and a ‘service’ to be traded and exchanged like bananas, coffee beans, labour, or (now) subjectivity, the very relation of buyer and seller is no longer a viable set (or pair) of stable subject positions that define the mechanisms of a given market place. For example, one of the key examples that prove we are in a post-Fordist economy where this is true, is that when we shop at the supermarket and we present a loyalty card at the checkout, we are both consuming the goods and services of the supermarket and working for them as we consumer their wares. The loyalty card is the contract that makes us the tacit employees of the supermarket, as they legally harvest data on our shopping habits to improve their business. Why would they pay expensive market research consultants to organise expensive focus groups to find out about market trends when they can glean live data right there at the checkout for a fraction of the cost reaping a full-scale modelling of the data as it is being produced. It is quicker, larger, cheaper and more reliable than any reports a market research analyst could produce. The supermarket pay us a little bit in tiny rewards, of course, in the form of tokens to receive discounts or actual pseudo-cash rewards (usually 1% of the total spend at the checkout), which we can spend in the same store. So they are helping to guarantee that we return to keep on shopping with them. It is brilliant in its divisive clarity! In terms of exhibitions, however, in light of this and many other similar such operations of post-Fordist capitalist ‘economies of scope’, the audience of the exhibition has attention, time, intellectual engagement, cultural capital and other forms of currency that are also goods/services, which they bring to the exhibition. The very presence of the subject who holds such currency/goods/services (largely immaterial in form, but nonetheless materially consequential) upsets the value relation that is presumed to be held in and produced by the presence of the choreographed wares of the exhibition. So, to put it another way, if a bus load of well-respected art critics come to your exhibition (or celebrities or whatever) then the presumed value of the exhibition and its content rises for other visitors or other subjects involved in any way. This means that the audience is simultaneously both a buyer and a seller; it is another marketplace imbricated with the marketplace of the exhibition, and it is a gatekeeper of its own market goods/services/currency as well. The audience can choose to attend or not, or to engage in more strenuous ways or not, etc. So, we can revisit the tension/contradiction of the dialectic of the state and market models of the exhibition here because the audience is also both a public and a private entity at the moment that they choose and are admitted entry to, becoming audience to, the exhibition. This means that the audience has a conflicted and contradictory subject position vis-à-vis its role in relation to the exhibition as either market or state. As ‘members of the public’ the audience are parts of an ideologically constituted state apparatus ‘the public’. As such they are both subjected to the exhibition as an ideological state apparatus and subject the exhibition to state regulatory functions and operations because ‘the public’ is the guardian realm of the regulatory function of any state. Simultaneously, however, as ‘private subjects’, or buyer/seller hybrids, in the exhibition as market, free to engage in trade and exchange (albeit within state regulated parameters) they are also agents of atomised and alienated self-interest within the exhibition as market. When we consider the interchangeability of buyer-seller positions of the artworks/exhibition and the audience then this subject-subject/subject-object matrix becomes very complicated indeed. This is precisely, however, why exhibitions of art have never been more popular and why contemporary art in particular has had such a rapid growth in audience attendance from established and evermore diverse new audiences. It is because the contemporary art exhibition provides a place where the contemporary subject can experience acutely an accurate axonometric modelling of the stark and chilling contradictions of their subjecthood under the sign of neoliberalism, without explicitly feeling any fear, pain and/or regret (although, however, these subjects don’t know it, they do feel this fear, pain and/or regret whilst in the contemporary art exhibition, but they experience it as a soothing yet imperceptibly violent repressive desublimation: art as the commoditisation of the experience of art).

 

As is well known Adam Smith in his major 1776 work, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, uses the phrase “the invisible hand”:

 

As every individual, therefore, endeavours as much as he can both to employ his capital in the support of domestic industry, and so to direct that industry that its produce may be of the greatest value; every individual necessarily labours to render the annual revenue of the society as great as he can. He generally, indeed, neither intends to promote the public interest, nor knows how much he is promoting it. By preferring the support of domestic to that of foreign industry, he intends only his own security; and by directing that industry in such a manner as its produce may be of the greatest value, he intends only his own gain, and he is in this, as in many other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention. Nor is it always the worse for the society that it was no part of it. By pursuing his own interest he frequently promotes that of the society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it.[xxiii]

 

This ‘invisible hand of the market’, as it is widely now known, has become an ideologically divisive weapon to justify all manner of requests and pressure to shrink the functions and operations of nation states, as well as regional and local governments, in order to promote an illusory and ersatz image and concept of individual freedom. But ideology aside, it is widely believed that within any market the pursuit of self-interest will benefit more broadly the society of which the market is a constituent part. The logic of this belief is that any market has self-regulating capacities, and does not require regulation by state agencies and their guidelines, policies and statutes. In effect, this means that our agora does not need gatekeepers, inspectors or other regulators, because over time the market will self-regulate, righting any wrongs that might go on within its boundaries. For example, if, in a fictional market place in, say, Bethnal Green, London, UK, a market trader is knowingly selling faulty electronic goods, such as toasters, which they bought at an unusually low wholesale price, then over the short-term their customers will quickly realise that they (the market trader) are selling rubbish and they (the consumer) will not return to purchase other goods they (the market trader) may have to offer. Also, those unhappy customers may inform other potential customers that the goods at that market stall are faulty and not to be trusted, thus redirecting those potential customers to other retailers. So, although in the short-term the unscrupulous market trader may make some quick and inflated profits, over the medium to longer term they will damage their business. It is not necessary in this example for a market inspector, or trading-standards officer, employed by the local government, to inspect and regulate the goods at this market stall, because consumer consciousness will do it. This works as long as you are happy to accept and overlook the consequences that you, or anyone else, might get electrocuted by the faulty toaster that you have bought there. You have taken the risk, you see. You opted to buy a cheaper toaster from (to you) an unknown retailer and thus you tacitly accepted the risk of becoming collateral damage in the operations of the ‘invisible hand of the market’.

 

However, simple examples aside, what the usage of ‘the invisible hand of the market’ myth really misses is that the choices that the agent of choice believes they can make regarding self-interest and/or the interests of wider society are in fact always and already bounded by ideological factors that are a consequence of the existence of the ideologically derived subjects of state and individual, and the illusion/allusion of their inter-relationship, as well as a myriad of other ideologically determined subjects and operations of ideological force; such as language, for example. Thus, the ‘invisible hand of the market’ is only one among many myths that the complexities of whatever our ideology is subjugate us with and subject us to. In other words, the myth of ‘the invisible hand of the market’ proposes, tacitly at least, that there is a space of neutrality in the market, and that the market itself is not ideologically conditioned. This, of course, would be impossible, as a concept such as ‘a market’ needs first and foremost, really before anything else, to be communicated to its potential users/participants and its mechanisms explained. This can be done explicitly, as in schooling, or implicitly, as in following by example. Any market does not just miraculously and spontaneously exists. Any market has to be constructed, either explicitly or tacitly, overtly or covertly, but it does not and cannot simply spring in to being with ready subjects already knowledgeable about how to operate it and operate within it. This is equally true of the exhibition of art if we are considering it as a market.

 

Furthermore, in terms of exhibitions of art as markets, the external (state) regulation vs. self- internal- (‘invisible hand’) regulation question is very complicated indeed. The exhibition, as we have stated already, operates as both a state and simultaneously as a market (in digital electronic industry jargon, as a ‘platform’), and in this it is doubly regulated. Now, the commercial art market is the second biggest officially recognised unofficially regulated, or unregulated, commercial market in many countries, including the UK.[xxiv] The art critic and art historian Robert Hughes has been quoted as saying that, “Apart from drugs, art is the biggest unregulated market in the world,” a statement he made in his 2008 documentary Mona Lisa’s Curse.[xxv] However, our concern here is not whether commercial gallerists, art dealers, auction houses, collectors (both corporate and individual), and others play by ‘the rules’ in this extremely opaque market, but rather we are interested in the construction, structure and operations of exhibitions per se, which do play, of course, a part in that commercial art market, but which have far greater political and ideological reach and power than mere the purchasing and fiscal trading of and through artworks. What we are interested in here is how exhibitions function as complex regulatory platforms, regulating a more broad range of socio-economic values through and as ‘art’/’arthood’.

 

In terms of the mythical self-regulation by ‘the invisible hand of the market’, how is an exhibition self-regulating, if it operates as a market? Now, the crux of this question relates to what is presumed to be traded or exchanged within the exhibition. In any other market goods and services are traded and exchanged for either other goods or services, or for money, or for some other currency that equivalates values within the market. The intervention of time in a complex market where there are many buyers and sellers does the rest; regulating performance, tolerances and impedances within the market. However, in an exhibition operating as a market what is traded or exchanged are time, attention and intellectual or emotional engagement, both on the part of the audience/participants and on the part of the artwork. The currency is ‘art’/’arthood’ that makes these goods/services of time, attention and intensities of engagement equivalent in order that they can be traded or exchanged. Of course, any market only works properly if surpluses of the currency are produced for the individuals engaging in the market’s activities. So, how in the exhibition as market are surpluses of ‘art’/’arthood’ produced? Well, in any other market the presumed value that the buyer believes they can achieve by utilising or selling-on the good or benefits of the service that they are planning to purchase at some point in the future is calculated against the current price they will have to pay to acquire that good/service at that moment. The buyer has to believe that the good/service will be more valuable at some future point (in one way or another, directly or indirectly) in order to deliver some benefit to the buyer in the future. Therefore, the good/service purchased at that moment must hold the promise of greater value than the value of the actual existing purchase price at that moment. What occurs over time, with many buyers and sellers interacting in any relatively complex market, is that a relatively stable set of beliefs about the promises held by the goods/services begins to coalesce. In a stable market the buyers and sellers largely tacitly agree upon the extent of their belief in these promises. Disruption to markets occurs when rogue agents, rogue buyers and sellers, wildly underestimate or overestimate the extent of these promises. But, of course, promises are immaterial and effectively inexistent, so the whole edifice is built upon and built from a powerful illusion based on the very existence of a future time, or indeed the very possibility of ‘the future’. In the context of the exhibition as market there is a rather odd collapse of this illusory principle. The currency of the exhibition as market is, as we have said, ‘art’/’arthood’, but this currency is not only a currency but it is the very thing that is also traded and exchanged. The time, attention, and engagement that we described earlier as analogous to the goods/services sold, bartered, traded and exchanged in other markets is the very stuff of ‘art’/’arthood’; ‘art’/’arthood’ is constituted only by time, attention, and forms of intellectual and emotional engagement of a particular kind that focus on ‘art’/’arthood’. In this respect, the exhibition as market is precisely analogous to the financialization of money as capital, where money is both a currency and a good/service. In both of these examples, the exhibition as market and the financialization of money, the promises of both the units of currency are radically unstable, as are the potential promises of the goods/services, because they are the same thing. If we consider as well, that money itself (and indeed ‘art’/‘arthood’) is nothing more than a promise (a ‘promise to pay the bearer’) then we have promises that are grounded on promises, which is no ground at all, of course. This move shifts financial markets, and the exhibition as market, to a point where regulation of any kind, either state regulation or the ‘invisible hand’, becomes less and less effective, and in effect becomes redundant because the currency, and therefore all the market operations, become based on entirely opaque criteria (i.e. on no criteria at all) of a purely subjective and ideological kind. The markets become mere caprice, trading and exchanging pure ‘ineffables’ via an ineffable currency. We can say then that the exhibition as market (as well as the financialization of money), therefore, pseudo-self-regulates by severing the ‘invisible hand’, producing a chaotic and opaque system of operation that is not really a market at all but an ideological battering ram, or in other words ‘a monument’.

 

The final point here about the exhibition as market, is that markets only operate, or function at all, if there is competition between sellers. This is, of course one of the key factors in the myth of the regulatory function of the ‘invisible hand’. For exhibitions, however, there is no competition as such because the goods/services of artworks and the promises they may contain are already out there suffused throughout the entire edifice of art. The exhibition is actually - instead of being a ‘market proper’ that propagates and regulates competition (an operation of risk or uncertainty) - a pseudo-market in which competition as such is desublimated as crypto-ideological certitude. In that sense the exhibition (in the expanded and contracted senses), as we know it, is not so much a giant monopoly, although on the face if it it does seem this way, but rather it is, again, a massive, violent, complex and diffuse ideological monument.[xxvi] This rather usefully explains the massive and rapid expansion of exhibitions, exhibition types, and the huge volume of ‘exhibition-going’ that we have seen throughout the 20th Century and into the 21st Century. The competition inherent to the exhibition as market is itself the very nature of ‘art’/’arthood’ as we know it. Art today is the very expression of the collapse and synthesis of state and market models of governance.

 

 

...

 

 

Postscript:

 

Exhibitions (and other technologies of visibility for art) no doubt can contribute to the operations of capital, but exhibitions and these other technologies of visibility for art are not what necessarily constitute ‘curating’, or ‘the curatorial’.[xxvii] Exhibitions are not always ‘curated’, even if their press material proclaims that a curator has curated the exhibition. In short, curating means to protect art and artworks from forces that would otherwise undermine the putative power of art and artworks: this power being such that it need not contribute to the vectors of the hegemonic ideology. Curating, or ‘the curatorial’, is a form of addressing art and artworks that embodies an attitude of care for the preservation of the power of artworks. In this regard ‘the curatorial’ must work to shield art and artworks from forces that would otherwise dilute or pervert the singular operations of art and artworks. This might mean actually barring others from engaging with the artworks. It might mean actively propagating a community or group whose aims are the same in regard to caring for the artwork, or otherwise constructing a milieu or context in which the artwork is most likely to be able to fully function on its own terms and exact its putative power to the fullest degree. It also might mean dismantling the entire edifice of art as it is and constructing art according to a different syntax that does not place ‘paradigm shifts’ as its central paradigmatic operating principle, such as in AGMOAS-inspired art. Curating does not mean willy-nilly thrusting the artwork into the public realm for all manner of consumption to take place unguarded. To curate is to care for, to guard, and to construct art. Most important of all, to curate is to think about art in careful and specific ways (often precisely specific to each artwork), and in that regard, paraphrasing François Lyotard again, if to think is to fight and to curate is to ‘think with art’, then it is so that to curate is ‘to fight with art’!

 

 

 

 

 

Notes:



[i] See Terry Atkinson’s papers in parts 1 and 2 of this project with Jeffrey Charles Henry Peacock and kynastonmcshine gallery. [www.kynastonmcshine.org.uk]

 

[ii] For greater description and analysis than I have room for here of this phenomenon, please see: Philip Weiss, ‘Selling the Collection,’ Art in America, Vol. 78, 1990; Rosalind Krauss, ‘The Cultural Logic of the Late Capitalist Museum,’ October: The Second Decade, 1986-1996, edited by Rosalind E. Krauss at al, MIT Press, 1998; and, http://www.maverick-arts.com/cgi-bin/MAVERICK?action=article&issue=403 [last accessed: April 23rd, 2014], where there are some interesting facts about Thomas Krens’ attitudes to museum directorship.

 

[iii] For details about the first artists’ pension trust, see: The Economist, May 27th, 2004, http://www.economist.com/node/2714114 [last accessed: March 13th, 2014]. And, for details about art investment schemes, see: http://www.businessinsider.com/how-to-start-investing-in-art-2011-12 [last accessed: March 17th, 2014].

 

[iv] Visit any Starbucks or Coffee Bean establishment to see this in huge wall-mounted photographs of seemingly happy farmers and farm workers from developing countries, in promotional literature, and on printed stickers attached to individual bags of ground coffee and coffee beans.

 

[v] See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banana#Modern_cultivation [accessed on April 20th, 2014].

 

[vi] Esurance, a prominent US global car insurance broker, prides itself, in its most recent advertising campaign, on the 7.5 minutes it takes to get a quotation online through their website [www.esurance.com], vs. their main competitor Geico’s lacklustre 15 minutes by comparison [www.geico.com]. Has it really come to this? That a consumer would be so horrifically busy in their work and private life that the promise of saving 7.5 minutes from their hectic yearly schedule would be a central decisive factor of whether they choose one car insurance broker over another? Clearly it has!

 

[vii] One hopes that the physical neurological pain suffered by consumer of Tylenol is eased not so much by the drug in the bottle as by the distraction of brightly coloured and dynamic graphic design on the bottle and the athletic models peering out from the advertisements in magazines and on TV and elsewhere.

 

[viii]  A building designed by, say, Rem Koolhaas, Frank Gehry, or Rafael Viñoly will always be valued more highly than another building with precisely identical material and functional qualities designed by an unknown or lesser known architect, simply because these ‘starchitects’ are regarded a such. In China, the construction industry has recognised this quirk of Western capitalism and many building replicate those of both contemporary ‘starchitects’ and historical icons of architecture in the West.

See, for example: Oliver Wainright’s blog at The Guardian newspaper, http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/architecture-design-blog/2013/jan/07/china-copycat-architecture-seeing-double [accessed March 23rd, 2014];

or, Vanessa Quirk’s similar piece online at archdaily.com,

http://www.archdaily.com/357293/why-china-s-copy-cats-are-good-for-architecture/ [accessed April 15th, 2014].

 

[ix] If you must retread this tired old story, then start with a short interview with the art historian Wouter van der Veen here: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/the-woman-who-brought-van-gogh-to-the-world-66805589/#W7JKCZcfvjsmD3yF.99

Van der Veen and Peter Knapp wrote a book about Theo Van Gogh’s wife Johanna, called Van Gogh in Auvers: His Last Days, in 2010 [The Monacelli Press (October 26, 2010)]. It’s not revolutionary, but it does have some interesting details about how Vincent van Gogh’s paintings were received shortly before and after his death in 1890.

 

[x] This is what I take to be what Terry Atkinson calls ‘The Corporate Tyranny’ in many recent essays, several of which are included in parts 1 and 2 of this project with Jeffrey Charles Henry Peacock and kynastonmcshine gallery. [www.kynastonmcshine.org.uk]

 

[xi] See, Joseph B. Pine, & James H. Gilmore’s well-known 1999 book, The Experience Economy, (Camb. Mass.: Harvard Business Review Press, 1999), for a full explanation of this concept and contemporary phenomenon. In a nutshell, here is a summary of a very good clear example that they use in the book to outline their concept briefly. For a child’s birthday, parents (most likely mothers) used to purchase eggs, milk, flour, and sugar to bake a cake at home for the child. Following this, for a child’s birthday, parents (usually mothers) would buy a pre-made cake at the grocery store or supermarket for the child. Following this, parents (sometimes mothers) would book a table at a café, bakery or restaurant to have a party for the child, with their friends and/or family, and the café, bakery, or restaurant would provide a cake (which they either made or bought in). Today, those charged with the duties of parenting children (mothers or fathers, or nannies, or personal assistants, etc.) can hire a party planner to basically do everything for the child’s birthday, and they might even upload the diary details of your child’s birthday party to your iCloud calendar/scheduler so you don’t even have to forget to do that.

 

[xii] In 1997 Tracey Emin took part in a panel discussion on a special one-off British TV show called ‘The Death of Painting’, on Channel 4, where the absence of any painters in that year’s Turner Prize was discussed. Emin was both extremely drunk and made incoherent by painkillers that she was taking for a broken finger; you can see the splint on her finger when watching the show. To view the footage online via YouTube, please visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HKNr2LOkXYE [last accessed: April 28th, 2014]. To view the American self-proclaimed community activist, writer, director, dramaturge, and Social Practice Installation Artist, Theaster Gates interviewed on the popular Comedy Central TV show, The Colbert Report, on March 6th, 2014, please visit: http://thecolbertreport.cc.com/videos/f3jjle/theaster-gates [last accessed April 28th, 2014]. Please also note the hilariously baroque description ‘Social Practice Installation Artist’ on Gates’ Wikipedia entry: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theaster_Gates [last accessed: April 28th, 2014], which reads like a satirical vignette from of a Kurt Vonnegut novel, or a scene from a Paul Verhoeven movie.

 

[xiii] See: https://www.artnet.com/analytics-reports/ [last accessed: April 15th, 2014].

 

[xiv] See Terry Atkinson’s analyses of the difference and similarities between an artist’s practice and their career/lifestyle in a range of his AGMOAS essays, several of which are published as part of this project with Jeffrey Charles Henry Peacock and kynastonmcshine.

 

[xv] Found at: http://www.globalpolicy.org/nations-a-states/what-is-a-state.html [last accessed: April 27th, 2014].

 

[xvi] Found at: http://www.documenta11.de/archiv/d11/data/english/index.html [last accessed: April 28th, 2014].

 

[xvii] I hesitate here, as you can imagine, in using this term ‘gallery girls’. However, it is used here advisedly and from the perspective of myself being an ardent feminist. If it were not enough of a cliché that pretty young well-dressed middle-class women are by far the most prominent features of commercial gallery front desks worldwide, there is also a ‘reality-TV’ show called ‘Gallery Girls’ to hammer home the subject type, produced and broadcast by Bravo TV. For details of this horrific misogynist spectacle, please visit: http://www.bravotv.com/gallery-girls [last accessed: April 3rd, 2014]. And for a brief critical commentary on it, please visit: http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/culture/2012/08/bravo-gallery-girls.html [last accessed: April 4th, 2014].

 

[xviii] Found at: http://www.investopedia.com/terms/m/market.asp [last accessed: April 29th, 2014].

 

[xix] Found at: http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/market.html [last accessed: April 29th, 2014].

 

[xx] Found at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Market_(economics) [last accessed: April 29th, 2014].

 

[xxi] See Søren Andreasen and Lars Bang Larsen, 'The Middleman: Beginning to talk about Mediation’, in O'Neill, Paul (ed.), Curating Subjects, [London: Open Editions Press, 2007], pp. 20-30, for a spirited description of the middleman function of curators of contemporary art, plus a rather poor reading of Gilles Deleuze’s work on mediation as both a concept and an operative function of thought and matter.

 

[xxii] What I have written here is indeed what I think about Flowers East’s performance in the art world, but also I was treated extremely unprofessionally and rudely by the Director’s wife about twenty years ago when I went for an interview at the gallery following an application for a junior position in their organisation, and it has soured my view of their output ever since. However, I do stand by my analysis of their performance as a gallery, albeit that the hyperbole that I use to explain my logic (which I believe holds even without the hyperbole) is coloured by the bile and vitriol of petty grudge holding! Thankfully, I didn’t get the job, and I have truly enjoyed my work as a teacher and writer of art so far.

 

[xxiii] Smith, Adam, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, Book 4, Chapter 2, ‘Of Restraints upon the Importation from Foreign Countries of such Goods as can be Produced at Home,’ 1776.

 

[xxiv] For two insightful articles on the vagaries of the commercial art market please see: Marc Spiegler’s 2005 piece for The Art Newspaper, ‘Time To Reform The Art Market?’ [found at: http://www.forbes.com/2005/05/30/cx_0530conn_ls.html - last accessed: April 3rd, 2014]; and, Toby Hill’s 2012 piece for Artlyst, ‘The Art Market: Unregulated Unscrupulous And Worth Billions’, [found at: http://www.artlyst.com/articles/the-art-market-unregulated-unscrupulous-and-worth-billions - last accessed: April 4th, 2014]. Another good piece is Robin Pogrebin and Kevin Flynn’s 2013 New York Times article, ‘As Art Values Rise, So Do Concerns About Market’s Oversight’, [found at: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/28/arts/design/as-art-market-rise-so-do-questions-of-oversight.html?_r=0 - last accessed: April 4th, 2014].

 

[xxv] To view Robert Hughes’ 2008 documentary Mona Lisa’s Curse online, visit:

http://c-monster.net/2011/11/04/biggest-unregulated-market/

 

[xxvi] The sheer apotheosis, or if you prefer the nadir, of this state of affairs can be found in the structural operations of the work of British-German artist Tino Sehgal, where ephemeral phenomena, usually performances of some kind, are enacted and retained only in the mind of the viewer of the work. Nevertheless, these artworks can be, and are, sold, traded and exchanged. This entry on Wikipedia explains how this works:

 

On the sale of his work, Sehgal stipulates that there is no written set of instructions, no written receipt, no catalogue, no pictures and no perceivable meaning. The conversation that constitutes a Tino Sehgal sale consists of his talking to the buyer (usually a representative from a museum) before a notary and witnesses, generally with about five legal stipulations of the purchase: that the work be installed only by someone whom Sehgal himself has authorized via training and prior collaboration; that the people enacting the piece be paid an agreed-upon minimum; that the work be shown over a minimum period of six weeks (in order to avoid allegations of ephemerality); that the piece not be photographed; and that if the buyer resells the concept, he does so with this same oral contract. This means that his work is not documented in any way, apart from critical reviews both admiring and negative. As of 2010, the "constructed situations" sold in editions of four to six (with Sehgal retaining an additional “artist’s proof”) at prices between $85,000 and $145,000 apiece.

 

Found at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tino_Sehgal [last accessed: April 30th, 2014]. Tino Sehgal is represented by Marian Goodman Gallery, New York, NY, USA.

 

[xxvii] Indeed, the very term ‘curating’ has become so popular and widespread in usage, roughly meaning to organise or arrange something or things according to some given hermeneutic criteria, that we now see its deployment as a verb in any manner of not-art related fields. One of the finest examples of the sheer banalisation of this term that has been published recently can be found on page 41 of the May 2014 issue of the Automobile Association of America (AAA) magazine, Westways, which reads: “The friendly owners at General Store Paso Robles have curated a charming collection of local artisanal goodies, including custom tea blends, chili-spiced honey, and sheep’s milk ice cream.” Do make sure to visit 841 12th Street, Paso Robles, California, USA to verify this. Hans Ulrich Obrist, ‘eat your heart out’!





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