Justin Mata - Got My Mind On My Money And My Money On My Mind <|>
No one will be able to say that rapper Snoop Dogg ever lied about his intentions. He lets you know right off that he’s thinking about getting that money. The first time you heard “Gin and Juice,” from his premiere album “Doggystyle,” did you even question it? You think he raps for the girls? Check the chorus: my mind on my money. For the fame? Check the chorus: my money on my mind. He is going to tell you three times at every single listen to that track. Sometimes when I gallery hop and see art, I wonder if the artist has their mind on their money. I wonder, were they engulfed by some kind of euphoric creative frenzy that demanded they keep working until the piece was finished? Or did they have their money on their mind? It’s hard to tell. Purists might say that art and money should not even be mentioned in the same sentence. The rest of us might say that they are undeniably linked. How can we understand how money and art are linked?
In Metaphors We Live By (1980), linguist George Lakoff argues that the conceptualization of an idea involves relating the idea to real physical entities. Abstract ideas need to be grounded due to the fact “that we typically conceptualize the nonphysical in terms of the physical.”(1) Lakoff exemplifies the metaphorical constraint with the use of the verb “in.”
Harry is in the kitchen.
Harry is in the Elks.
Harry is in love.
The first line is the only form where Harry is truly “in,” the others being metaphorical constructs. “The concept of IN of the first sentence emerges directly from spatial experience in a clearly delineated fashion. It is not an instance of a metaphorical concept.”(2) Let us apply the same analysis to the meaning of an artist. In relation to our conversation, we will say that an artist is someone who makes art. This definition relies on defining art, which we know is not merely an object but rather it is fluid and takes “form” through its context. Because context is also metaphorical and relational, we will say that art is contextualized by its presentation, its externalization from the self. So to remove the metaphorical constructs and ground the perception of artist in the physical, let us say that an artist is someone who presents or displays. By being manifest outside the body, art will have the potential to generate value and be commodified given that we are in a system driven by markets. From this point, we conclude that all art has an intrinsic relation to money that cannot be removed from the art making process. The only way to exclude oneself from this system completely is to remove oneself from it. When art enters the world, it will always have the potential to be sold in some form or another. The market is “smart” enough to find a way to generate revenue through a myriad of direct, secondary and tangential possibilities. The artist as a non-object creator has historically been ineffective in preventing art from being commodified; in fact the trend has been a broadening of the idea of how art can be sold by making use of what Martha Rosler dubbed “art world currency”.(3) Regardless of the degree to which an “art piece” is sellable, whether it is the more ephemeral “work” of Rirkrit Tiravanija or the very permanent objects of Joel Shapiro, there is always a way to generate revenue.
The inclusion of money in the dialogue of the creative process is not new, especially of late. Increasingly more and more literature has been circulating from the east to the west coast touching on many variations of this topic. This dialogue should however, now extend itself into the “studio” as well. In the same form painters consider the quality of their paints, the archival nature of their canvas, or the strength of their brushes, we must all now consider the “market” as both a tool and content.
Although it might be easy to take an antagonistic stance toward the situation, instead I would argue for an objective one. In what way, in what form can the business of art be effective within the work? Lakoff notes that “there are real things, existing independently of us, which constrain both how we interact with them and how we comprehend them.”(4) It is this force of market and capital that should be a goal for our artistic community to comprehend.
This imperative may be even more important to younger emerging artists, as the formative years can be stunted by a caffeinated market eager to draft the most promising rookie. Curator Robert Storr among others has written recently about those relationships in detail,(5) which to legions of graduate students and young hungry artists is practically taken for granted. Storr writes, “the artists are driven by many factors besides dreams of fame and fortune, not the least being the fear that in a generation-oriented culture you will miss your moment if you don’t stand out quickly.”(6) Our responsibility must be to solidify our practice in the face of these forces, to remain cognizant. How do aesthetic, content, and other creative choices lead to a market compromise? A sculptor that chooses to use bronze has already inherited an artistic compromise in that the continuation of traditional methods posits them in established roles. However, recognizing the role of the market helps us understand in what manner it will come into play in regards to the thought process.
In October, Jerry Saltz wrote “before pointing fingers—or meting out punishments—we have to remember that artists generally have nothing to do with what people spend. You can’t blame Richard Prince because someone paid $2.2 million for one of his paintings.” For those of us on the other side of the fence it may be easy to demonize those artists who may benefit greatly from the influx of capital into the art world, or those artists who may cater to it specifically. We shouldn’t. But, neither should we hold indifference to the effect that seven-digit figure price tags play in the perception of art or how we choose to make it. When Kara Walker has shows opening simultaneously at the Whitney and Sikkema Jenkins, does it deflate the work to know that the Whitney retrospective will undoubtedly increase the selling prices of her solo show and guarantee their purchase? Both shows were incendiary exhibits, two of the best I have witnessed since moving to New York. I left the Whitney moved and confident in the transformative power of art. At the same time, the monetary value associated with a show at Sikkema Jenkins becomes the context, develops the lens through which her work will be viewed. For better or for worse (for the work) the two will be inseparable in a historical read of the artist. Does that play into her studio time, affecting her decision making process? Does she accommodate or compromise because of this? How much compromise is “ok?”
Cabinet magazine editor Colby Chamberlain recently expressed similar views when he called for “artistic practices that take their relationship to power into full account, for artists who work with the market but don’t wholeheartedly or uncritically embrace it; rather, they regard the market as yet another tool or material to be examined.”(7) It may be appropriate to consider the market power and capital as a contextual element within which we locate a contemporary piece of art while viewing it. As antagonistic and difficult as this may seem, when participating as an audience, we must develop the proper tools with which to engage an artwork. A common form of relating to a piece in contemporary dialogue revolves around the notion that neither the artist nor viewer can complete the interpretation. It is problematic to use an artist’s bio or statement as the Rosetta Stone or comprehension tool in the same way that the viewer’s baggage can misinform a “read.” It seems more suitable to address the work for what it is in that moment, its identifiable characteristics. A price tag most definitely will be one of those characteristics. In the same manner that the Romantic tradition will historically be seen in relation to the Industrial Revolution,(8) or Renaissance painting to the church and skilled tradesmen, so will our time be seen in the context of the rapid commodification of everything. This will be the contextual backdrop that future historians will use to illustrate the artistic terrain; shouldn’t we develop a discourse for using price as a component of critique?
Contemporary philosopher Elizabeth Anderson questions whether “market norms do a better job of embodying the ways we properly value a particular good than norms of other spheres”(9) such as family, friends, clubs, professions, etc. Does an expensive painting suggest superior quality to inexpensive documentation of say a performance? The obvious answer is no. Anderson writes, “since [the market] offers no means for discriminating among the reasons people have for wanting or providing things, it cannot function as a form for the justification of principles about the things traded on it.”(10)
When critiquing art in relationship to its commodity status, a common thing we question is the artist’s “sincerity.” How much did the artist compromise, if at all, in order to make the work more accessible and possibly more sellable? Only the artists can make the final decision regarding what is off-limits. As we look back at the power potential of art, it is important to assess what the aspirations of the piece are and the realistic possibility of that intent. Rosler writes, “if producers attempt to change their relationship to people outside the given ‘art world’ they must become more precise in assessing what art can do and what they want their art to do.”(11) Allan Kaprow detailed this futility when he highlighted the loss of power relating to the transition from non-art into the Art context. When something becomes “art,” it also becomes less influential than non-art. I doubt that there are still many artists who believe that their art will change the world. But I do believe that many artists hope that it can.
As the presence of monetary demands and influences become more apparent, some of the most exciting work deals with this directly not as external to the work but as content. The Warholian legacy of superfluous production and exchange value is just as exciting a thematic element as painters relationship to the photo. In the same way painters could potentially be viewed in both relation, contrast, and complicit with the camera, so can art now be seen in the same relational dialogue with the market. How can money be used not just as measuring stick but also a theme for contemporary work? Where does the market come into play? The power moves associated with Damien Hirst’s purchase of his own sculpture, For the Love of God, as head of an “unidentified” investment group indicate a manipulation of the market that stands not as content provider, but straightforward investment.(12) Alternatively, the group show New Economy, on view last June at Artist’s Space provided several intriguing examples of the market power as content. Kader Attia’s Halal Sweatshop and Carolina Caycedo’s Day to Day deal with money’s play in art in varying degrees. Day to Day documents Caycedo’s year of bartering during which she lived in New York without using money, Halal Sweatshop has an actual functioning sweatshop within the gallery space. Attia’s relation to money is more metaphorical as the sweatshop grounds the content in the exploitive power of production as exemplified by clothing manufacturing. The sweatshop produces goods for populist consumption, but the placement implicates the art community in the same system as those outside the art bubble. In Caycedo’s performance, capital is the content by its very omission. The subtraction of dollars as median exchange object emphasizes its importance in our daily lives. The success of the piece has nothing to do with critique or opinion; the exposure of the structure is the real strength. When faced with the possibility of a year without money, the viewer is intrigued and baffled as to how one can operate in this society without it. The Freegan movement(13) as an artistic endeavor makes the viewer contemplate the role of the dollar in every portion of our lives. We are left to adopt our own opinions.
At a lecture given in 2007, Blake Rayne spoke of his interest in painting as something more than object, as more than art article. He detailed an interest in paintings as mediators for value: the notion that paintings, and all commodities act as vehicles for exchange value. In other words, that value can be produced through labor power, transferred to money, exchanged for a painting and so forth as a kind of energy that makes its way through several mediating elements.
Similarly, Santiago Sierra’s art directly deals with forms of the market, capital, commodification and how these relate (and marginalize) the worlds’ citizens. When Sierra paid four Spanish prostitutes 12,000 pesetas apiece to have a continuous line tattooed across their back14, the money involved becomes as much a tool for creation as the tattoo gun. Like Caycedo, the content becomes a social and economic structure where this work finds a home. Through Caycedo, the structure is emphasized by omission, with Sierra, through maximum exploitation.
Undoubtedly there are many more examples of work being created in a similar vein. Money is on a lot of people’s minds and will continue to have a place there. It is unfortunate that we cannot responsibly claim naiveté to our relationship with the business of art, but the business has been (and will be so long as this global economic policy maintains) inextricable from our reality. We should mine it for all its “worth”.

1. Metaphors We Live By George Lakoff, Mark Johnson pg 59
2. Metaphors We Live By George Lakoff, Mark Johnson pg 59
3. “Lookers, Buyers, Dealers, And Makers: Thoughts On Audience,” Martha Rosler, Exposure (Spring 1979), Pg 22
4. Metaphors We Live By George Lakoff, Mark Johnson pg 226
7. “What Sissy Spacek Done Told Me” Colby Chamberlain,
8. Metaphors We Live By George Lakoff, Mark Johnson pg 191
9. Value In Ethics And Economics, Elizabeth Anderson, Pg 143
10. Value In Ethics And Economics,, Elizabeth Anderson, Pg 146
11. Lookers, Buyers, Dealers, And Makers: Thoughts On Audience,” Martha Rosler, Exposure (Spring 1979), Pg 11