When talking about the curious economics of big bad capitalism, Artspace curator Mark Feary says his latest show The Financial Report is not a strident anti-capitalist manifesto. It is, rather, a critical engagement with life in the age of perpetual boom and bust.
“I was very keen to not frame the exhibition as ‘capitalism is bad’,” says Feary, whose show coheres the work of seven Australian and international artists. “I want to look at the financial system’s points of failure and approach it from the idiosyncratic perspective of an artist. I want to look at what is the intrinsic value of, say, a thousand dollars, and what happens if that thousand dollars – in this case it’s Andrew Liversidge’s work – is smelted down into a sculptural form and has no inherent exchange value contained within it.”
And of course you can’t look at the strange collision of finance and art without looking at the Aboriginal art market. Feary has included Natalie Thomas’ work, which concerns a wealthy husband and wife art forgery team in Melbourne who specialised in rorting works by famed Indigenous artist, Paddy Bedford. “They were a white couple. They were found out to be slowly, systematically and very successfully, over the course of a decade, releasing these forgeries through the full gamut of auction houses in Australia. They had very creative and ludicrous stories about how the paintings came into their possession. They had one story that their friend in Canada had bought a Bedford and bequeathed it to them years ago, and another that they’d found a Bedford at a market for $10 and just been aesthetically attracted to it.”
“So Natalie Thomas has done a series of four fake paintings based on this couple’s paintings as they appeared in the media. It relates to Richard Bell’s oft-quoted slogan, ‘Aboriginal art – it’s a white thing’. If you were to speak to many auctioneers off-the-record, fakes and forgeries are quite rife within that industry.”
Feary has also put together a stream of freakonomics-style talks by finance analysts, investment bankers and economics professors, about “securitisation, currency exchange…things that have nothing to do with art”. Asks Feary, “How do our financial systems actually work? How did the collapse of the sub-prime mortgage markets in the States have this domino effect elsewhere? Is it something inherent in our economic model? Which it most likely is. I wanted to get experts, not artists, because while the artists in this show have done vast amounts of research on the topic, it’s not a field that they work in – they’re cultural commentators.”
It follows that the show’s directive is not to exhibit decorative, bankable pieces of art. It’s about unveiling the financial gears that govern how we live, the nuts-and-bolts of the art of economics. “I personally am not interested in aesthetics or beauty or things that look nice or art for art’s sake,” says Feary. “I’m interested in how art is going to reflect on the specific times in which we live. In terms of longevity, art is used to redefine what an era was, what was of value, how things were commissioned, how they were patronised, for whom, for what audience, what were the fashions and how they reflect a class system, how all this reflects on a broader reaction against society. If, in twenty years, we were to look at figurative landscapes produced now, they probably wouldn’t define anything of our time. But many of the works in this show will be able to signify what our issues were, not just for artists but for the broader population.”
BY LAUREN CARROLL HARRIS