21 April 2011: Discussion on art and money at Cinque Terre
We selected three articles from the 24th issue of e-flux journal (a great online resource for anyone interested in art & culture), all three of them separately interesting, but also focusing on relevant and current –seen from the perspective of the crisis in Greece and Europe– themes: money, art, distribution of knowledge, collective action. The articles were: Boris Groys: “Art & Money”, Precarious Workers Brigade: “Fragments Toward an Understanding of a Week that Changed Everything…”and Franco Berardi Bifo: “I Want to Think: POST-U”.
As one would anticipate, the topic that monopolized the conversation was art & money, setting off from the main points touched by Boris Groys, who divides the different aspects of the relationship between art and money into two bulk categories: a. the exchange value of an art work (art as commodity); b. the phenomenon of large-scale exhibitions (biennials, triennials, Documenta, Manifesta, art fairs), through which the art exhibition turns into an event for the general public not interested in buying art, and for the realization of which public or private funding is necessary. Groys focuses on this second category, mainly referring to installation art, which is hard to circulate and therefore might cease to exist without exhibitions –since art comes into being only when it is exhibited. He then turns the discussion to whether contemporary (installation) art is “elitist” and to the quality of this “elite”: is it the financial elite? or is it the artists themselves?
This point generated a heated discussion among the group, on whether artists are indeed, or feel they are, an elite. Are they truly an elite –a group that possesses power and engages with other power groups– or a minority? Are they an elite because they are identified as such, or because they are perceived by others as such? Do they have the power to change our aesthetic circumstances? Artist Vasilis Zografos pointed out that artists do believe that they are part of an elite. They instinctively possess a global knowledge of reality which leaves them constantly unsatisfied, guiding them to produce work that causes the system to evolve and change. However, even though their action is revolutionary, they are not conscious of the changes they can provoke. It is through the aesthetic experience that art exposes and renegotiates the social and political conditions we live in.
Coming back to the article, Groys goes on to explore the role of the artistic avant-garde in the 20th and early 21st centuries and the interpretation of the term “aesthetic experience”, as vehicles to explore the definition and mission of contemporary art, namely contemporary installation art, that is attributed the capacity to induce the sense of community among the spectators, to build a “collective of visitors”, through the unification of the space where it is installed. This analysis gradually revealed the writer’s true intentions to describe the deeper sociopolitical ties between the production of art and the mechanisms of production in the meta-capitalist era that is currently emerging; rather than to give a superficial account of the relation between art and money, as the straightforward, provocative title suggested.
The group agreed that even though we did not manage to bring ourselves to completely agree with all his separate points and arguments, Groys’ concluding remark does give quite a successful definition of contemporary art and its mission: “Here lies the critical, enlightening character of truly contemporary art: while the commodities produced by our civilization circulate on the global markets according to their monetary and symbolic value… it is contemporary art alone that is able to demonstrate the materiality of the things in this world beyond their exchange value.”