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Art and Money


The relationship between art and money can be understood in at least two ways. First, art can be interpreted as a sum of works circulating on the art market. In this case, when we speak about art and money, we think primarily of spectacular developments in the art market that took place in recent decades: the auctions of modern and contemporary art, the huge sums that were paid for works, and so forth—what newspapers mostly report on when they want to say something about contemporary art. It is now beyond doubt that art can be seen in the context of the art market and every work of art can function as a commodity.

On the other hand, contemporary art also functions in the context of permanent and temporary exhibitions. The number of large-scale, temporary exhibitions—biennials, triennials, Documenta, Manifestas—is constantly growing. These exhibitions are not primarily for art buyers, but for the general public. Similarly, art fairs, which are supposedly meant to serve art buyers, are now increasingly transformed into public events, attracting people with little interest in, or finances for, buying art. Since exhibitions cannot be bought and sold, the relationship between art and money takes here another form. In exhibitions, art functions beyond the art market, and for that reason requires financial support, whether public or private.

I would like to stress a point that is often overlooked in the context of contemporary discussions about exhibitions. These discussions often suggest that art can exist even when it is not shown. The discussion of exhibition practice thus becomes a discussion of what is included and what is excluded by a certain exhibition—as if excluded artworks can somehow still exist somewhere, even when they are not shown. In some cases artworks can be stored or hidden from the public view and still exist as they wait to be exhibited later. But in most cases, to not show an artwork simply means not allowing it to come into being at all.

Indeed, at least since Duchamp’s readymades, artworks that only exist if they are exhibited have emerged. To produce an artwork means precisely to exhibit something as art—there is no production beyond exhibition. Yet when art production and exhibition coincide, the resulting works can very rarely begin to circulate on the art market. Since an installation, by definition, cannot circulate easily, it would follow that if installation art were not to be sponsored, it would simply cease to exist. We can now see a crucial difference between sponsoring an exhibition of, let’s say, traditional art objects and sponsoring an exhibition of art installations. In the first case, without adequate sponsorship, certain art objects will not be made accessible to the wider public; nevertheless, these objects will still exist. In the second case, inadequate sponsorship would mean that the artworks, understood as art installations, would not come into being at all. And that would be a pity at least for an important reason: artistic and curatorial installations increasingly function as places that attract filmmakers, musicians, and poets who challenge the public taste of their time and cannot become a part of the commercialized mass culture. Philosophers, too, are discovering the art exhibition as a terrain for their discourses. The art scene has become a territory on which political ideas and projects that are difficult to situate in the contemporary political reality can be formulated and presented.

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