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Can Financialization offer art an Exit from Contemporary Art?


Photograph: Real Flow, Installation view by Sebastian Bach, courtesy of K.

A recent exhibition by the Real Flow collective and an upcoming one by Wong Kit Yi both at K. in New York feature works which incorporate ideas and practices from the financial world either as the exhibition’s’ actual medium or as a methodological about face in the way art can be produced, priced and circulated. The first exhibition borrows heavily from concepts developed and articulated by Suhail Malik, in “The Ontology of Finance” published in the recent issue of Collapse Journal. A theorist and faculty member at both the Department of Art at Goldsmith London and Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College, Malik is also a member of the Real Flow collective. The exhibition consisted of mid size abstract paintings which could be used as the basis for the exchange of futures and derivatives. The second exhibition North Pole Futures is produced as a collaboration between the artist and her curator alter ego Ali Wong. It features a web based system which allows collectors to participate in the art production by making aesthetic and conceptual choices from a list of preset elements which will then be incorporated into the actual work of art by the artist on a traveling ship. There are also works either already produced (Where 6: “Prediction,” with Sarah Meyohas) or about to be (artist confidentiality) that involve the utilization of cryprocurrencies as either the medium of the work or a part of its production cycle. It seems that through practicing finance, these artmaking strategies, one way or the other, abstract art’s mode of financial existence into its general reason dterre. Thus, they attempt to turn art’s weakest link, the market, into its strength. The question that arises then is, can critically navigating financial processes and rivalling its dominant currency offer art an exit from contemporary art?

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the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house, etc.
u can quit your low paying job in contemporary art and get a high paying job at a bank!


I disagree. I think it is extremely limiting to assume that the weapon of the rich under no condition can be used against them. The effectiveness of any recuperation has to do with the specificities with which it is carried out.


The key here, as in so many other, (seemingly) disingenuous attempts at exiting, is revealed in this group of descriptors: “artmaking strategies” “exhibition” “art production” “works”


Are there better words for describing what takes place at a gallery?


Maybe just offer collectors the opportunity to rebalance your Ameritrade account?


I am not a theorist, so my response is purely pragmatic/strategic. The transnational art market is actively structuring regional art markets, which means that if any intervention is to be made it is precisely at the level of the transnational, not the local-regional (although the two are not mutually exclusive). We know for a fact that the transnational art market, which takes the Anglo-American neolib version as its template, thrives from indeterminacy, non-criteria-based valuation, a complete lack of transparency at the level of transaction, etc (we can all recite these in our sleep), all of which are justified by art’s ethico-functional imperatives and permitted by artworks’ lack of bite through their slavish commitment to discourse. Two questions then emerge, who cares, and if someone cares, what should be done about it? There has been a lot done on the who cares part, so I won’t recite all of these positions here, but given how central the discussion has become to the field, we may safely conclude that many care. Now, much less has been said about what can be actually, constructively done about it. A lot has been theorized, yes, but not much has been actually developed at the level of programmatic intervention. It seems that at the level of crude intervention (and intervention is always crude because it inevitably has to reduce a plethora of nuances into a set of actionable compromises), infrastructural change can either happen through top-down regulation, techno-social innovation (which still requires a set of governing criteria, otherwise it is most likely to only intensify existing power asymmetries and systemic conditions), strategic deployment of leveraging power towards a more structured regime (i.e. a pseudo-industrial action). Real Flow (and the people who are involved in the project, myself included, full disclosure) attempts to do the latter. The CA field will be financialized. That’s not an unknown. In fact, it is already being financialized, albeit in a really basic form (what is today called “speculation” in art). These forms will get increasingly more complex and will follow other markets in financializing risk for private gains, while leaving both the “producers” and the institutional network in a more volatile and cash-strapped position that they are in now. I would say that for me, RF is not necessarily a strategy for exiting contemporary art–unfortunately, that mission for me is similar to proclaiming an exit from capitalism and I am just not sure any single project can make such ambitious claims (although, collectively, we shouldn’t shun the desire). What I work on is a very straightforward attempt to elicit a structural deviation from the self-occluding market system of contemporary art to a socio-economic ecology that’s a bit more like Sweden than the US, metaphorically speaking.


I also think that there are different ways of “using” finance in contemporary art. Generally, it is common practice for artists to take tropes from other fields and to apply them in whatever fashion they see fit in their art. This can have any number of very different consequences and implications. I therefore don’t think that it is possible to say that any application of financey type logics to art can be considered as an attempt to exit contemporary art. In fact, most projects don’t even set this as their intended aim. They are interested in financey things the way that another artist may be interested in thermo-dynamicky things–it is an interest that is actually very formal and not necessarily geared towards any systemic transformation. On the other hand, everything has the potential of setting a precedent and have knock-off effects. These require nuanced case by case analysis.


“what takes place at a gallery” is not, by my judgment, “an exit from contemporary art.” It is, of course the antithesis of such.


Stephen Wright points us to a more honest exit strategy (and could easily in the latter part be talking about this exhibition):

“I am referring to an art without artwork, without authorship (not signed by an artist) and above all without a spectator or audience. It is visible, public, and indeed, it is seen–but not as art. In this way, it cannot be placed between invisible parentheses–to be written off as “just art,” that is, as a mere symbolic transgression, the likes of which we have seen so often, whose principal effect is to promote the artist’s position within the reputational economy.”


this is hardly a genuine example of someone “exiting” Art – Malik’s ideas seem cool enough but his work reads as an academic “project” focused more on “potentialities” than actualities , and his published writing (I haven’t read the new book but will be buying it) so far is to my mind (excuse me) garbled nonsense . in fact , exiting Art requires continuous explication and re-subjectivization w/r/t art practices , a divestment from International Art English , and , most importantly , a commitment to Something held over and above Art . as per the valorization processes discussed so well in Groys’ “On The New” , you can’t escape your own legibility to Art , but you can openly combat it (see Lee Lozano , to take one successful example) in the work itself or in communications adjunct to the work . but you know , the biggest trap of all is to allow a polemical rejection of Art to parasitize your work (obviously granting more power to Art in the process ) . wait , actually the biggest trap might be going to one of Malik’s lectures and taking its pseudorevolutionary rhetorical dress seriously : welcome to a kind of Johnny-come-lately Institutional Critique . I mean , come on . I don’t mean to sound overcritical – personally , I love that Malik is working on this angle – who else in the art world wants to talk about “making an exit” – but the context of his claims says more than do the claims themselves . I have an idea : a return to --context-- !


Dilettante, I should add here that by Contemporary art I don’t mean art that is produced by people today in the gallery system but a specific genre of art which claims the larger frame of the present to make its specificity invisible. Contemporary Art is very specific and has more to do with the metaphysical claims of the work rather than its mode of material production.


@Victoria how would you go about finding a criterion by which to distinguish that which is merely curious and that which is transformative? The reason I ask is that I find it hard to imagine a measurement other than actual impact. Emphasizing just intention (“well, at least I am sympathetic to what they’re trying to do, even if they fail…”) seems inadequate to me. Not to mention that it’s difficult to judge someone’s intentions.


@dxb I could not agree with you more! The reason I even speak of intention is because in the context where a project has come into the world a couple of months ago (Real Flow) or another one that will only be launched on Sunday (Ali Wong), it is too early to judge impact in a thorough way. We can speculate about impact by using the practitioners’ stated or implied intentions and the logics by which these specific projects function in order to schematize potential repercussions, which we can then label as either curiosities that are only relevant to that particular practitioner’s practice or transformations that could have systematic effects.


Oh. It is a shame something more substantial isn’t at stake. I guess it is obvious I am interested in exiting art, not merely contemporary art. Why not revive the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and call it a day then?


@Dilettante But isn’t the gallery just one of the infrastructural nods in the field’s ecology that is currently implicated in a historically-specific ideological formation? In other words, “the gallery” just like Ministry for Transportation (for example) will function according to the agenda of the currently governing forces, which are subject to change just as is their agenda… So, just as the Ministry of Transportation is not antithetical to a social welfare state just because it is currently being governed by a libertarian party, it doesn’t seem that the gallery as a platform is necessarily antithetical to an exit from contemporary art.


Quite a few people talk about this (see:, although your qualifier “in the art world” might be important. Many are on the edges of the art world, or well outside of it.

And I have to say, if your interest is in a strategy of “divestment from International Art English,” it seems odd to cite Groys, whose his work I describe elsewhere as being “of such precious and predictably jargoned writing/speaking as to be source material for the “cut-up” method of generating exhibition wall texts [written in IAE].”


TOTALLY. I think de-authoring (but REALLY de-authoring this time) art is crucial for an exit from the CA paradigm. But by the same token art needs to detach from its dependency on objecthood and become a systemic program if it’s not to fall into the default market of “funky goods/services.” So, I guess the really radical implication of Wright’s suggestion is that an exit from art is an entry into a new politics.


Or into an actual politics. :smile: