INVESTIGATING THE ART MARKET
Gatekeeper. ISSUE.01 AUTUMN 20
www.gatekeepermagazine.com @gatekeeperzine email@example.com
ART MARKET Est. 2020
Lucy Alves and Natashca Ng
9182 0001 2109 37637
The commercial art market poses a variety of moral questions to many creatives who delve into selling, making and exhibiting works of art. It presents itself as a playground for the rich who pawn treasured artists’ creations as a financial investment or to follow a trend that fellow billionaires deem current. Founders, Lucy Alves and Natascha Ng, have always had a keen interest in the art world. However, they have had to constantly wrap their heads around a selling platform which is completely unregulated. As an artist, Lucy has always questioned participating and contributing to a controversial and difficult industry. Emerging artists face a problem: needing money to live but frequently being expected to exhibit for free in return for ‘exposure’. Comparatively, there is the extreme of ‘making it in the art world’, where work is selling for no less than thousands, or millions, of pounds. The initial meaning of work is increasingly lost, as it becomes a commodity or a product, reflected by its monetary value. This presents creatives with a moral dilemma. Art is more than a commodity; it is a movement, it is expression, it is power. Gatekeepers must not dictate art’s value.
utilising their knowledge to build, question and develop the future of the art economy. We want to help create alternative ecosystems, rather than the elite commercial bubble that dominates the art market currently. In this first issue, we focus on the word ‘transaction’, collaborating with exciting individuals who have shared their work and perception on the art market. We would also like to say a huge thank you to those who have agreed to collaborate with us and contribute to our first issue. As an upand-coming magazine, the support has been so important to us and helps to build the future of Gatekeeper.
At Gatekeeper, we hope to investigate the art market in all its entities. Each issue will provide insight into how artists, creatives and writers explore this as a theme within their practice. We hope this will enable other likeminded individuals to understand the art world,
A special thanks from Editors and Founders
Creative Direction and Graphic Design:
Lucy Alves and Natascha Ng
C-Jaye Newton and Elisa Colson
Charles Maddocks Eline Benjaminsen C-Jaye Newton Max Haiven Robin Tarbet Honor Freeman Matthew Burrows
In conversation with
Jay Jopling & Ch 14-23
C-Jaye Newton 40-45
Artist Swap E In conversation with
Q+A with Artist feature
arles Maddocks New circulations
ew Burrows 28-39
Honor Freeman New circulations
Max Haiven 52-61
Jay Jopling & Charles Maddocks
*He would probably never
JJ: My first question is, what three words would you use to describe what this project is about?
his work. Jacques Lacan’s writing on camouflage, paintings like Kazimir Malevich’s White on White and Agnes Martin’s White Stone also became influential.
CM: Façade, truth and conformity. JJ: And what do you think is your core comment? CM: The façade that exists in every aspect of our world. We all act, whether we are aware of it or not. From Marley Gape to the newsreader, or me and you and the way we all perform our individual social roles. Organisations act too, which is what Liberal Hill critiques, as it acts as a satirical version of a nervous, politically correct news show in the post-truth era. JJ: What do you think are the main references in this work and why? CM: Gregor Schneider and his concept of the twin houses was key to the idea of making sister worlds, as well as books and films like Flatland by Edwin Abbott and the Butterfly Effect, which helped me further understand sister worlds. When making Marley Gape’s artworks, I was looking at a lot of Antony Gormley’s sculptures and exploring how he uses his own body to make
They helped inspire the white figures on the white background and how to explain this conceptually, reflecting Marley Gape’s character and personality. The main influences for the news show came from the work of Armando Iannucci and Chris Morris, with Brass Eye and The Day Today in particular, as I tried to use some of the same visual language. JJ: Who is Marley Gape and what sort of character is he based on? CM: Marley Gape acts as a very extreme version of my narcistic artist alter-ego. He is what I would become in 10 years if I let all self-awareness and humility go out of the window. He is what the art world loves to celebrate; arrogant, narcissistic people with ridiculously high levels of self-importance. Like me, he comes from the north of England, but has a massive chip on his shoulder about it and is paying his way through the art world to achieve some level of status in the high-brow circles he wants to operate in.
Marley Gape, 2020
JJ: Please could you expand on why these events happen in two parallel worlds? CM: The idea of the parallel worlds came from my fascination with how one minor difference can affect the whole world so much. It was something I was playing with before university and I wanted to do something that encompassed this theme as my Final major project to see how far I’ve come over the last 3 years. The worlds are separated by one difference, the photographic frame, hence the title ‘A Frame Apart’. I wanted to show how something seemingly unimportant changes the whole world. The parallel worlds also allow us to see the true fickle nature of the world; it’s the same artist, with practically the same artwork, yet in one world he is a hero and one world he is a villain, despite doing nothing different in each. JJ: Who do you think this work is for? CM: This work is for everyone- part of the work is about the elitism of the art world and the ethical considerations of that, so it’s definitely made to make sense to everyone even for people with little to no education on art or in general. It’s about conceptual accessibility. The whole film serves the artwork to some degree, to put it into context so that the relevance of the artwork can be understood. It’s very important to me that art is made accessible so that it doesn’t just serve the elite, like most art does, because I think art is so much more powerful when it’s clear. I think art like this helps us work towards being a less polarized, more understanding society. JJ: What are your reasons for not writing an artist statement for this work? CM: Artist statements are usually written using complex language, which doesn’t explain the work clearly and is written to impress educated people. If someone doesn’t get it and asks for further explanation, then they have failed the artwork, as they haven’t been intelligent enough to ‘get it’. It’s the whole concept of the emperor’s new clothes and it’s a cycle which I believe needs to be broken. My project is commenting on that. The work should make sense without an artist statement because that’s what I believe good art is. If I wrote an artist statement for this work using as, David Levine and Alix Rule coined it, ‘International Art English’ I would be becoming part of the problem. I would have literally become Marley Gape.
JJ: Can you tell me the reasons for making this work? CM: Its purpose is to challenge conventions that we take for granted, whether that’s something simple like the photographic frame, or the post-truth world. To what extent do we believe what we hear on the news? It’s difficult to shake our adult habits, but if we could start again and reinvent or relearn parts of our world, what would we change? The work is about taking a step out of our world and looking back in, almost an anthropological stance on our own culture with the work becoming a template to look at the current times. I am operating as an infiltrator and critiquing the medium of lens-based media with itself. The same pattern repeats, whether that be the artist critiquing the artist, the news critiquing the news, or the frame critiquing frame, the concept is to critique the thing with the thing. The work becomes about deception, self-obsession and self-cannibalisation, destroying itself under the pretence of something else.
13 Mock layout for Charles Maddocksâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; show
Founder of Artist Support Pledge In conversation with Matthew Burrows
Towards a generous
Interview by Lucy Alves and Natascha Ng
Matthew Burrows Tell us a little bit about yourself, as an artist and creative. ‘So, I am a professional artist. Although I have recently strayed into sculpture, most of my practice to date has been around drawing and painting. I think of what I do as an exploration of the body in relation to landscape; human nature and the natural environment in relationship to one another. I think that modern culture tends to think of human nature as somehow separate to the natural world – I believe that it is this separation that has caused a lot of problems, such as environmental issues and inequalities. As soon as we see ourselves as separate, it is easy to make divisions and abuse resources and landscapes. Framing landscape as a view is a means of control, which emerged as a product of the industrial revolution in the 1700s. My work does not frame the environment literally or metaphorically. I feel as though I take a very traditional, pre-history, pre-industrial civilisation, hunter-gatherer approach. For example, Aboriginals become intimately connected to the landscape by moving at a pace that allowed them to name everything they saw. One of my great loves is endurance running, through which I have developed an intimate relation with the landscape. Consequently, my work has moved away from framing the landscape as an image and more towards exploring landscapes through the connectiveness of movement; all of your senses and sense of who you are is embodied through your relationship to the environment. It is important to find a visual equivalent that explores being and dwelling, moving through places.’ How did you get into the art world? ‘I suppose I took a very straightforward route – I did my art foundation at Chester College, BA at Birmingham School of Art and MA at Royal College of Art. Whist I was doing my MA, I had already been taken on by a London and New York art gallery, which meant that I went straight from my BA to becoming a professional artist. Although to many young artists that might sound like a dream, I don’t think I would recommend it. I think, ideally, you should have time to connect to a community of artists, develop your network, friendships and your work. In fact, I don’t think most artists I know really started to develop until their 40s. It doesn’t mean the work you do before that isn’t interesting, but it takes that time to really discover what you’re about.’
At Gatekeeper we are very interested in how commercial artwork can impact artists’ practice. Do you feel that the commercial art market has had an impact on your work? ‘At the beginning of my career, I had a moment when I was successful very quickly. I hadn’t developed my identity as an artist, I was still exploring the processes of painting and found the pressure of needing to produce work consistently and on demand for exhibitions, which was very unconstructive for my practice. Indeed, I had a long period in which I struggled to find a positive commercial relationship as I felt constrained by commercial pressures.’ For emerging artists, how do they strike the balance with success (in the sense that you describe) and the need to earn money? ‘Artists should be successful through their creativity thriving and a strong, agile, in-depth relationship to the wider community – this is difficult as it needs funding. Start as you mean to go on. If you compromise at the beginning, then you will always be compromised. You need to be clear from day one what your values are, where you are willing to compromise and where you are not. The businesses side of art should support the creative side, not the other way around. I only worked with galleries that allowed me to develop my work and wouldn’t compromise my creativity. Be professional. I don’t mean professionalise your work but don’t be sloppy in your relationships with galleries or collectors. Don’t be afraid to ask for support. Absolutely be yourself, don’t be embarrassed. Don’t try and be like someone else who’s been successful – you won’t inherit their success!’ Tell us a little bit about the Artist Support Project and what influenced you to start it? ‘When I was in my late 30s I realised that myself and many of my contemporaries were in this weird situation: we had finished studying, made a good go at being professional artists, but the in-depth dialogues and discourses that we had been a part of on our MA courses had dissipated to some extent. I felt that I was not having a sufficiently robust discourse around my work. I started to think about how I could deal with that. I realised the solution would be to utilise the network I have. So, I created a system that enabled my friends and peers to support one another: the Artist Support Project.
17 SELECTS highlights @emilystollery selected by Sid Motion, Director and Founder of Sid Motion Gallery, London. @sidmotiongallery
The project works around the idea of creating small groups of 4-6 people that support each other creatively and intellectually, through either practical, academic or emotional support. Over two days, I take each group through the processes I’ve developed that enable an in-depth discourse into your strengths, weaknesses, passions and values. One of the things I’ve noticed over the years is that when an artist grinds to a halt creatively, it’s almost always because one of those things has not been nurtured and instead has grown stale. If you don’t nurture your interests, then what do you make work about? What is core to whatever you make? What are those things? When you ask people these things, they look a bit confused and they realise they don’t really know, so we try and work to develop a strong sense of this. Often your weaknesses give you the most creative play. You’re inventive when you’re stuck, not when you know what you are doing. You must understand how to use your strengths to support and play with your weaknesses.’ It feels as though your new initiative, Artist Support Pledge, has taken the concept of Artist Support Project to a much larger scale. Would you say this is the case? ‘‘Yes, Artist Support Pledge was based on the same culture as the Artist Support Project; a culture that I am always propagating through the network. Both are based on the idea that if you have a culture of trust and generosity, it’s a much more profitable environment to discuss, share and support one another. This contrasts with the environment of competitiveness, oneup-men-ship, exclusivity, power and wealth that tends to dominate the art market we currently know. If you’re in hyper competition, then honest debate goes out the window. On March 16th, I had to cancel 2 forthcoming workshops, as well as a solo show, due to Covid19. It seemed that every message I received was regarding exhibitions closing, galleries closing, work ending. I felt a wave of desperation, acknowledging that this was going to be really bad for artists. I wanted to support friends and colleagues that are part of Artist Support Project. I thought: I’ve got this culture of trust and generosity and this network, I can use the people in that to support one another. It had to be an economy, a means to financially support each other. It was just a matter of coming up with an economic formula that worked – a low price entry and an act of generosity through paying back into the system. From there, I wrote a list of what I thought a generous culture should be. Whenever someone asked me a question, I would look at the list and think: right, what’s the generous answer? Lots
of people asking can I submit work to the Artist Support Pledge– my answer always YES. And that’s how it started. I had modest expectations when I launched it but, within 24 hours, it was clear it was going to be something huge.’ You now have some quite well-known artists participating in the Artist Support Pledge. How do you intend to regulate the system and keep it inclusive of everybody? ‘That has been a challenge from day one. I can’t police it and its not supposed to be policed. The Pledge is based on cultural values and a code of conduct. It is a very simple formula and if everyone buys in then it is very effective. I took principles from hunter-gatherer societies, including the idea that all assets are shared across the community, and I wanted to create an economy that replicated this. We rely on trust and generosity of community to self-police, and most people do honour the code of conduct; they are excited by it. Excited not only about earning money but supporting friends and colleagues. The Artist Support Pledge is great as it allows artists to be successful on reflection of their own art. A key failing of the current art market is that an artist’s success is dependent on a gatekeeper, somewhere, deciding if you are hot or not. Artist support Pledge accepts everyone, promoting equal access and equal opportunity.’ So how can emerging artists be successful within the Artist Support Pledge? ‘It’s not like the art market, it’s a different economic model and culture. You cannot just post your work; you are dealing with a dynamic economy and the algorithms are always shifting. You have to follow the “how to” guides and top tips on the website. Read the guidelines. When you follow them, it works.’ Do you feel that there are any limitations for the Artist Support Pledge? ‘Well yes, there are two: human behaviour and technology. I feel that these are very much interlinked. The human behaviour part concerns maintaining the cultural values and the community that buys into the Pledge; these are what have made the Pledge so successful. A generous culture is not only economically effective but having a culture, a community and an economic model that works makes the Pledge accessible. Second is the limits of technology. Instagram has developed algorithms that favour sociability (which is why it is so important to follow the Pledge guidelines). The more you dynamically
19 Artist Support Pledge feature
Unbalanced 2020 Adam Ross Ceramics
engage on Instagram, i.e. like, comment, post consistently at the same time, the more exposure your content will get. The algorithms will pick up on the activity and they will drive the content.’
the system of power and elitism or you don’t have a career, and I don’t know any artists that like that system. What the Artist Support Pledge may have done is highlighted that it’s not that we don’t need the mainstream art market, but that art doesn’t need to be so exclusive; it has shown that there doesn’t need to be so many gatekeepers. I’m not so sure that the current art market is a model that we can all accept anymore.
Has this new economic model within the Artist Support Pledge changed your outlook on the commercial art market model? And, do you think that the commercial art market may change as a reflection of the success of the Artist Support Pledge? ‘I don’t know, really. Nobody really knows, as no one knows where the commercial art market is going at the moment. I think Artist Support Pledge will be around for a while yet. But it’s a new model and there is no other platform really like it to compare. A really great challenge that the Pledge has posed to the art market is that it has shown that there is an alternative way for artists to make a living whilst maintaining their practice. It is showing them a different economic model. A number of galleries that are a really important part of the art market have come up with versions of the Artist Support Pledge to support their resident artists. I think the mainstream market has survived and been backed up by artists as there has been no other economic model; no other way of doing it. So, you either buy in to
An observation I have made is that more established artists have been joining, which is brilliant - they bring money and they attract buyers who then buy other work. One thing that is very noticeable when speaking with buyers is that they are not buying one or two pieces but instead buying 10 or 20. It is a completely different model to the current art market, and it is very successful so far.’ I think this also opens up the art market on the other side, to younger buyers or collectors, as often the art market is very elitist in the sense that to start a collection or buy any art you have to already be very well off. ‘Absolutely, one of the things that has taken me by surprise was that, within the first few days, I not only got messages from artists across the world saying thank you, but from buyers. They would say, “this is the best thing ever; I’ve never
India Nielsen ' Chrome Web 2018'
had the confidence to go into galleries and buy art. This is a great way to collect as I can take risks and don’t need to be embarrassed.”
allow me to employ people to manage and run it on a day-to-day basis. This would truly make it sustainable and permanent.’
These collectors then move on to buying more substantial pieces directly from the artists. We were tracking artists from day one to see if there was a pattern of behaviour and one thing we saw across the board was that those who were successful on the Pledge started to sell as much work off the Pledge as on it.’
Finally, is there anything exciting for the future that you can share with us?
What is the future for the Artist Support Pledge and how will you adapt it in a post-Corona society? ‘At the moment, my aim for the Pledge is to keep it going, manage its culture, develop its partnerships, its collaborations and funding. It’s free to do, but it’s not free to run. I’ve been working full time since March and all my time has been given for free. I’ve personally funded the platform, legal and licensing costs, etc. We are trying to get public funding at the moment, but we would like to try to make it self-funded. We now have a giving page on the website, and you can either give a monthly donation or a one-off payment. All of that really helps, as it means we can pay the running costs. Hopefully, it will also
Weird eel banana things hanging off wall Ongoing series ‘Artificial Geologies’, 2020, Nika Neelova
‘The next thing that I am really excited about is a way to support students. There are two things. Firstly, a “student in view”, where students can post images of their life in view, in their studios, and we will then repost this on the account to highlight different students every couple of weeks. This will be a way to draw into the spotlight what students are doing. Each student selected will chose 7 other students, whose work they really rate, to highlight. Secondly, we haven’t figured out a way to do this, but we want to try and find a way to fund students; a way to draw pledges to help fund students with their studies. Primarily, I want to use the account as a cultural spokesperson, reposting community activity and artist studios in view that promote a generous culture. I want to get the voice of communities onto the account, show how it’s done, lead by example. When we all live by a generous culture, it makes a much happier art world.’
23 Bug leaf and legs - Collage from series ‘Between Animals and Trees’, 2020, Cecilia Bonilla
Yellow grass - ‘Looking for Light (III)’, 2020, Hannah Maybank
Diplomatic deserts A search for ‘desert’ on the internet will show a never-ending desolate beige and red terrain, all photos taken from the ground. These images contain no infrastructure, tall buildings, or humansapart from the odd camel rider. These arid surfaces make it a hostile environment for humans and animals. Desert biomasses are classified by varying characteristics including hot and dry, semi-arid, coastal, and cold.
reported that China detained nearly 120,000 Muslim citizens in “re-education schools” deep in the Taklamakan Desert (Cooper, 2020). Deserts that aren’t populated or scarred by steel remain a mystery. Our view of these terrains remains vertical from plane windows or google maps. When you look at a globe, not many will zoom into the beige marks on the map because there seems to be nothing. But this is precisely the issue- we expect nothing, so we don’t look.
Deserts form due to extreme temperature fluctuation that strains the rocks, eventually breaking them down into grains. The wind is responsible for sculpting the wave-like forms as it carries fine sand into layers to build dunes.
Artwork and war at 100° brings together global trade, corruption and it’s relationship with art, verticality and the body. I want to open up the scope of this conversation to think about its wider consequences and social implications.
These landscapes are a vast nothingness, a 4-dimensional canvas of both nothing and infinite possibility. In this space anything is possible because nothing has seemingly become to be. Pure freedom.
The research specifically exploring invisibility, mirage, money laundering and the free trade zone- corruption and healing. Fundamentally, the project simply proposes a new space of dwelling, relaxing, learning and debating in an attempt to make us a bit more compassionate.
The power of the desert is that it allows the illusion of nothing. This strategic invisibility allows humans to see these terrains as an opportunity. ‘Invisible Deserts’ written by Danika Cooper, argues that this space allows for the pursuit of activities outside of public, judicial and civic view. For example in January 2018, The Guardian
Artist Feature Bathroom tile on board 2020
27 Artwork and War at 100Â° Still from moving image
‘This is not a cult.’; by Honor Grace Freeman advises you to ‘wear your pants more than once, a stranger will buy them for a lot of money on Craigslist.’ and not to ‘worship the sale rail’. Freeman has now offered up her insight on the art market, providing Gatekeeper 10 commandments to help emerging artists like herself navigate the art market in an array of unique and comical ways.
Honor Freeman is a maker primarily interested in shedding light on current environmental and socio-political issues with a satirical edge. ‘When trying to communicate a serious subject, we have a tendency to switch off or get defensive if our views are being challenged. I think communicating these topics in a humorous way takes the pressure off; allowing people first to laugh leaves them more open to conversation.’ Freeman’s mediums range from a more craft based practice to digital drawing, with her latest project seeing her take the role of a ‘cult leader’, producing a manual of 10 anti-consumerist commandments ‘to free you from the rules of capitalism and save the planet’.
SWAP Edition No.3 ARTIST AS MACHINE Claire Undy 'Coin Trick' edition of 54 prints on financial times paper
My London studio is an archaic Jenga-like storage space with a small workshop area carved out within. For a reason that I am yet to fathom, the work I produce always seems to materialise as expanding series of prints, objects, editions and components that much like any modular system or Gremlins can, multiply in quantity to fill any space, especially my own. As an artist making stuff creates a constant storage problem.
Artists are commonly low in income but rich in produce, which creates opportunities to establish an economy of exchange as a means, not only for mutual trade, but also in act to utilise the experiences of other professionals. The value that can be gained from a simple work swap introduction can potentially lead to lasting friendships, and opens doors to future collaborations and enriched networks.
To add to the hoarding, I’ve always been interested in collecting - and I generally look after other people’s work better than my own. From contributing to print editions while at the RCA, to being gifted the ‘printers proof’ when fabricating works for others as a technician. ‘The swap’ has always been a financially low-cost method of collecting art, and for me a consistent way to prevent my own works from suffocating in bubblewrap. I don’t come from a background of collecting art. Like many artists who operate largely outside of the commercial gallery market, the often inflated prices in exhibitions are at complete odds to the value of the work itself when it inevitably returns to my studio.
SWAP Editions started as a DIY curatorial experiment in 2016 to see if I could tempt artists to contribute a small edition to a publishing initiative on the basis that for participating the only ‘payment’ they would receive would be a set of all the other artists’ works who have contributed. Jump forward 5 editions and multiple exhibitions, I’ve worked with 80 artists and the project still successfully operates with zero funding.
Buying art is financially not an option, yet the act of exchanging has a value beyond consumerism.
The artists are offered nothing to make the work, I don’t earn income from the project, and the overall ethos deliberately celebrates the fact that SWAP Editions is a collection of artworks that money can’t buy. SWAP Editions is very much an extension of my studio practice as an artist. I’ve never wanted to be a gallery dealer. I’ve never even wanted a proper job - I studied Fine Art to not have a proper job. SWAP Editions allows me to research, contextualise and present ideas that underpin my own methodologies. It is a vehicle to collaborate with artists and commission new work, while putting all emphasis of value within the collective artworks rather than their potential monetary status. As an initiative, it is also a subtle rebellion against the vastly over-professionalisation of art practice by universities attempting to justify their job’s worth to students paying high fees - rather than focusing on the pursuit of knowledge and making quality artwork. For me this career artist approach bypasses all the interesting stuff about being an artist and making art, and falsely presents the vocation behind a façade of business, and that means admin. I hate admin – so in that respect I aspire to be an unprofessional artist, and my career path follows on from the work I make. I’ve always found collaborating with other artists quite easy, but negotiating ways into gallery programmes increasingly difficult, so I started to think of ways to get around the system. Instead of forcing what I do best into an economic structure that I’m not good at, I focused solely on building a platform around the main commodity being the artwork itself. With
SWAP Editions the model of â&#x20AC;&#x2DC;multiple sets but limited quantityâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; creates enough versions of each project to satisfy the mutual swapping of works between all participants, whilst creating a desirable package to exchange for exhibition space, and allows a few spares to be gifted to public collections for legacy. It is an approach that has its limitations as it mainly enables the transfer of artworks between artists but, much like a small group show, each published edition is launched with a gallery exhibition or public event and the works join a growing showcase of art multiples available to view online. Through invitation and open submission opportunities I commission new works from both established and emerging artists, and these form an eclectic collection for each participating artist to own. For each published edition, several complete sets are gifted to high-profile international museum collections and institutions to ensure a wide-reaching public legacy and a complete edition is preserved as part of a growing SWAP
Editions archive. Personally I keep a set myself, they are amongst some of my most treasured possession.
And so my storage problem continues....
From the SWAP archive ‘Anti Brexit Voodoo Dolls and Other Powerful Objects’ by artist Dawn Wolley
45 Packs for SWAP Editions No.4 BREX-kit Designed and made by Ginny Davies and Barnaby Mills, 2019
SWAP Editions and associated artworks are not for sale - but a limited number are available to swap. Information about the project is www.swaparteditions.com and @swaparteditions on social media.
Q + A with Max Haiven
From the author of Revenge Capitalism and Art after Money, Money after Art
VE Justice and Divine Vengeance Pursuing Crime, Pierre-Paul Prud'hon, 1806
Q + A with Max Haiven
How do you think your research into the art market would differ if you approached it in the eyes of an artist?
One of the arguments I make in Art After Money, Money After Art is that in order for “the art market” to function almost everyone in it needs to be acting in a kind of bad faith. The thing that gives “art” its market value is precisely its often hyperbolic rejection of that value: art is “art” because it is supposed to be allergic to economic value and obeys some transcendental calling. For this reason, a urinal with the artist’s signature can be worth astronomically more than the same model without it. Even when art is explicitly anti-capitalist it still ends up participating: the antagonism to pricing is precisely what guarantees price. So artists, gallerists, dealers, collectors and everyone in the art food chain (including critics and intellectuals like me) necessarily need to be involved in maintaining the illusion of this antagonism. But, of course, that antagonism is an anarchonism and a fib: it is the emergence and proliferation of capitalist forms of money that give rise to the market for secular forms of “art” (singular works guaranteed by the signature of the artistic “genius”) in the first place: renaissance Italy, Golden Age Holland, Regency England, Bourgeois France, capitalist New York... There is even room for people like me in this game, so I’m not exempt: especially in the late
20th century we theorists have a key role to play in legitimating those terms and ideas that render art “contemporary” and therefore of value. This is especially important after the so-called dematerialization of contemporary art, when concepts, mass produced objects, social relationships or ephemeral performances are increasingly common. The critic and various venues for critical text have an important role in legitimating things as “art.” We are also tasked with scouting out the rebel margins of the art world to signal new frontiers for the art market, for instance in championing the work of outsider and radical artists. So I’m not outside of the economy of which I speak. Ultimately, if there is something that sets me apart it is less that I’m a theorist and not an artist, but perhaps more importantly that what I am trying to say is that there is no “outside” to the art market in some way. We’re all entangled. For me, this reveals not the depravity of the art market as such, but the depravity of the whole system of capitalism of which the art market is a curious but also demonstrative part. In so many ways the art market reflects or is almost a parody of that broader capitalist logic: for instance, the way it constantly seeks to enclose its critical frontiers and co-opt anything and everything of value, or the way it transforms
“passion” and “individuality” and “flexibility” and the romance of “art” into watchwords for new forms of exploitation. I suppose in some way the only thing that sets my perspective apart from an artist is that the piece of this puzzle I am tasked with producing is haunted by the spectre of truth, rather than of beauty. I think plenty of artists have reached much the same conclusions. Some have made art about it; many have “quit” art and are working in other fields; others keep doing “art” but really only as a means to in some way redistribute the wealth that unfairly accumulates in the art world towards radical anti-capitalist objectives.
Many artists are concerned about the fragile economy we are entering in the post-pandemic world; how do you think the virus will affect museums, galleries and art institutions and what impact will this have on emerging artists?
I think the reality is that, if we’re honest, the vast majority of people working as artists have never made any substantial money, at least not from their art. This even goes for those deemed “talented” and who achieve prestigious degrees, laudations and exhibitions. The market for art is really only structured to sustain the most popular artists, not artists as a whole.
As long as there are segments of the capitalist class who reap in so much wealth they don’t know what to do with it, there will continue to be an viciously unfair market for “contemporary art.” Indeed, ironically, the outcome of the pandemic is likely to be even greater disparities in wealth in society, more super-rich, and therefore an even bigger art market, once the initial jitters calm down. But that art market will only serve about 1% of those talented people who would consider themselves artists. Corporate looting of what remains of the welfare state looks like it will continue in many places, so I don’t hold out much hope for public funding either. Museums, galleries and institutions are likely going to need to rely more and more on private donations, which always have their price. Arts administration workers are also likely going to continue their rebellions and insist that industry can’t be built on the backs of their exploitation and burnout, which frankly is all that’s keeping a huge number of such institutions afloat. That all may sound pessimistic, but I am actually optimistic because it means that the old “normal” of inequality and overwork and precarity is coming to a close, or at least being revealed for what it always was. Artists who have other sources of wealth—for instance from their family, from patrons or from other jobs—might do alright, but in a way this has always been the case: the shameful secret of the art world is how many artists have always survived thanks to one kind of nepotism or adjacent wealth or another. It’s not that they’re not talented, but, let’s face it, there’s no shortage of talent out there. The rest of the artists are best off recognizing themselves as proletarians and organizing with other proletarians for things that will benefit proletarians in general. I don’t mean that artists are proletarians in some sloganeering way, I mean it quite simply technically: people dependent on capitalism for their survival. Like tens- or hundreds- of millions of other proletarians, capitalism has no use for most artists’ labour right now, and so is happy to leave them to die, or fall on the mercy of what remains of the welfare state, or move into other fields. The alternative, I think, is for artists and as well as the institutions that genuinely care about them to throw in their cause with popular struggles against capitalism and its terrors. For instance, this might include things like higher wages, reduced work-weeks, basic incomes, free education, robust public services (including funding for arts).
This might be an overwhelming question, but if you feel you are able to, what would you propose as an alternative ecosystem to contest the commercial art market and can you see this being as influential and viable as the current structure? I have an unpopular opinion here which is that I think the job of artist should actually be abolished. By this I mean the idea that some people are designated as art-makers (to the exclusion of so many others) and paid for it. I would like to live in a society where we used the powers of automation, imagination and justice to abolish work as we know it for everyone, by which I mean the exploitation of people’s time for a wage in authoritarian conditions.
In a society where everyone could have their needs met without the blackmail of having to work at a job they hate or that is useless (if not destructive) for the world, I think everyone, including the people-formerly-known-as-artists would have the time, creative freedom and support to develop their creative powers. On that basis, I think we could build institutions (to replace or reform today’s museums, galleries, art schools) to identify and celebrate the innovative, captivating and important creative work being done. As for the art market, I just think the whole thing should be abolished, frankly. I believe generally in reclaiming and redistributing wealth currently misappropriated by the rich, so that doesn’t leave a huge market for art anyway. There is a market for art between public institutions (which relies a great deal on private donations), but this can surely be managed a different way. In the short term, I am generally skeptical of efforts to build alternative art markets or new platforms for emerging artists. I mean, I want change for many artists and want them to get what they need to survive, but ultimately the tendency is for such para-market initiatives to either collapse or, worse, get incorporated into the art market as such. I explore this theme at some length in Art after Money, Money after Art, and it has also been parsed by others including Stevphen Shukaitis, Pascal Gielen and Marina Vishmidt. Capitalism learns from art in strange ways: yesterday’s radical avant-gardes inspire tomorrow’s restructuring of work and exploitation. So I’m sure that some artists or art intermediaries can devise a schemes to bypass, replace or reengineer the way art is marketed and sold, or the way the spoils are divided. But I’m, equally sure that this will not actually represent any substantive change in the system as a whole, which will still be rife with exploitation. The winners and losers might change, but that is the nature of capitalism: new competitive ventures replace older models in all industries. What remains the same are the fundamental principles of private property, the imperative to work, exploitation and alienation for most people. Ultimately, we’re at a historical turning point where I don’t think artists and those who care about them should be thinking about how to try navigate the art market or really any scheme based on the commodification of art. I feel we should be thinking about artists as living, breathing human beings and asking what would help them, and all us other living, breathing human beings, alive and allow us to thrive?
51 I think, oddly, one of the only truly great things to have accidentally emerged from the art world in the last decades has been a space for artists to think and dream about economics and experiment with radical new forms of economic mutual aid and activism. This is especially important now.
What advice would you give artists who are relying on unsteady income and are about to tackle the overwhelming nature of selling and trading their artwork? At risk of sounding flippant: protest unto rioting for the dignity of all people, and stand with all those whom capitalism makes worthless. Success in the art market to the point where you might actually not have to work a precarious job or rely on someone else is like winning the lottery: it’s as unlikely as it is grossly unfair to everyone else who has to lose for you to win. Success in the art market means you’ve won the favour of people who are destroying the planet. Why strive for that? Continue, by all means to make art, please. But let go of the idea of it being a “job” on which you are dependent to make money in order to buy what you need to survive. Instead, join in struggles to abolish work and racial capitalism, for the things you need to survive as a human being, not as an artist. Those things don’t come from the art market, they come from society at large: food, housing, security, education, joy.
I once spoke about my concern of the lack of artist’s fees and coverage for transport, material and travel at an event at a prominent Dutch museum.
Afterwards the museum director commented, saying they had “no idea it was so bad”. This gave me hope. If those who are in a position to decide and manage budgeting within cultural institutions aren’t noticing the systemic underpayment of artists, then I thought this surely means that it should be made visible to them. It’s with this sentiment that I decided to publish my accounting from the past 3 years of work with cultural institutions. I hope that being able to look at numbers like these makes what we already know about the state of artists’ working conditions more tangible. Together with a few other artists and other cultural workers I have been workshopping ways to do this. Our aim is to make a toolbox for artists with strategies to react to unfair labour conditions. We also wrote a manifesto that we call the Paid Artist Manifesto.
Journées photographiques de Bienne (delayed for ‘21 due to covid
Les Rencontres d’Arles (canceled due to covid)
IDFA & Melkweg
World Press Photo
Uncomfirmed but was budgeted for 1000 150
2000 per month
Residency, production of work
Centre National de l’Audiovisuel
3 months between 10.20 and 4.21
PREP/ PROD DAYS
DAYS PRESENT (TALK, EVENT)
OWN PRODUC TION EXPENSES ?
First time I got a contract for lending works out
The remuneration was going to be applied to through Mondriaan.
Payment in two halves, one in 20, one in 21.
(16.10.2020) This is for the residency period, more details will follow. So far 1000 calculated into the overall ‘earned’ sum and 14 days.
View the full grid at elinebenjaminsen.com
Publications x 20 (€ 100)
TRAVEL/ TRANSPORT COVERED ?
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hibitions withNo more the bill for ing, hosting, or creating n end to exto talk about 2
their work for f to an artists or delivering eve An end to any done for free ing a participa relevant
ree An end ganizing and nts for free artistic labour That chargtion fee is ir4
Eline Benjaminsen Where the money is made (2017), Antennae on top of old water towers, radio masts and abandoned apartment buildings; the sites depicted are not those one would usually associate with high-finance. Yet, this is where some of the biggest profits are being made today; resolutely physical surfaces of an immaterial market. Here, profits are made at speeds exceeding the capacity of the human brain. Guided by geometric
lines-of-sight between microwave transmitters and receivers, the work documents where so-called high-frequency trading takes place. Artificial intelligence and algorithmic technology allow trading firms to make profits close to the speed of light. This type of trading represents around 70 percent of the activity on global stock exchanges.
ART MARKET Est. 2020
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