The Trouble with Value
Discussing an array of artworks, the curators came across some intriguing voices telling a tangled story about the symbolic and economic value a work of art holds, being a product of its creator’s labour; and there came hope that these would provide some insights into contemporary notions of value and value systems surrounding us.
Consequently, the exhibition is an attempt to capture certain aspects of artists’ relationships with their works—ones which establish such values as well as those forging the connection between art institutions and the art market.
An artist’s work is subject to various assessments, expressed from the perspective of experts and dependent upon many—and often divergent—desires and needs. Among the actors of this judgemental spectacle there are curators, critics, art historians, philosophers, art dealers, and of course the public too; institutions and laws of the art market complete the disposition. The whole makes a not quite transparent set of determinants that is difficult to break down. As usual, it is much easier to reflect on the past, for a look back provides examples of views and ideologies that defined—perhaps in too simple a way, one compromised from the present point of view—values and ‘quality’ of artistic creations. This is how the canon of art developed to reach a condition when, despite continual redefinition and deconstruction, it changes steadily at the most. Well, don’t we all like tunes we already know?
Critics, curatorsand audiencesstruggle with disorderly, polyphonic magma of information. That noise, although tremendously stimulating to the mind, does not always facilitate perception and the formulation of appraisals. Still, adjectives such as ‘new’, ‘original’, ‘significant’, ‘demanding’ or ‘radical’ always come in handy. And this is where the question arises which is crucial for the exhibition: Is access to knowledge not being obstructed, and the logic of creating symbolic value not situated beyond the players’ awareness? Presence of certain logic is perceptible after all, and we struggle with its consequences every day. Perhaps it’s easier to make out merely the effects of this complicated process; its workings and dynamics are hardly ever described in a way to be considered satisfactory. It looks somewhat as if we know without understanding, look without seeing, judge without indispensable tools; as if we believe in all sorts of established judgements that never really appealed to us.
To investigate the sources of an artwork’s value, the values it may create and the value systems it is subject to, in the light of the above, is an arduous task, if not simply naïve—for all methods, theories and ideologies fail. Only poets and artists can rise to the challenge and make their individual contributions by producing impressions on this matter. It is impossible to lay out the basic arguments in a one-and-only, clear and precise manner—but it is possible to single out at least several attitudes, within practices of contemporary artists, as noticeably reflecting on the difficult process of cultivating value in a work of art. One such is, without a doubt, careful consideration of the role of language in building narratives and giving works meaning so that they are either comprehensible or deliberately entropic.
The presented array of approaches provides models of paradoxical situations as well, such when the outcome contradicts the aim. So it happens in the event of intentional destruction of an artwork whenever this action strengthens the viewers’ respect for the piece itself. Alike is the state of helplessness experienced when confronted with works commemorating momentous or tragic historical events, since there is no way one could separate reflection on the artwork from that on the story contained therein. Nor is there a way to evade, considering the viewpoint adopted in the exhibition, such issues as the impact of art institutions’ infrastructure and the value of artists’ labour, which lead the account astray, far from an ideal world, straight into politics and economics of precarity.
The second part of the exhibition The Trouble with Value will be presented at Onomatopee project space and publishing house in Eindhoven, in the first half of 2018.
The exhibition is part of the project “Beyond the Zero Point. Contemporary Art and Its Appearances”, co-financed by the Mondriaan Fund.
Photo: Studio FilmLOVE