The latest manifestation of Maria Lind’s seriss of exhibitions Abstract Possible opened at the Eastside Projects gallery in Birmingham on Saturday. As with all its previous outings, Abstract Possible: The Birmingham Beat, is an eclectic and cerebral exhibition, the importance and meaning of which goes far beyond the objects. This is not to say that the objects themselves are not interesting, many are, rather that the show needs to be read as part of a much wider and longer-term project.
The objects on show in Birmingham represent all three of Lind’s overlapping categories of abstraction – formal abstraction, economic abstraction and withdrawal. Whilst they embody very disparate styles and modes of expression, all in one way or another contribute to Lind’s (and others’) wider concerns about the nature of art markets, the valuation of art works and the dominance of certain market actors. At the opening, Lind delivered a presentation explaining in some detail to overall purpose and ethos of the exhibitions as well as the contributions of particular artists and objects. My personal favourite (among others, but make your own mind up) is Zachary Formwalt’s book installation ‘Reading the Economist’, which explores the relationships between Karl Marx’s notebooks from the 1860s in which he closely monitored reporting of financial ‘panic’ in The Economist, contemporary spiritualism, ‘art magic’ and other, similarly resonant themes.
As important as the exhibition series and the objects, however, is the report that Lind and Olav Velthuis have produced in conjunction with it. Contemporary Art and Its Commercial Markets (2012, Sternberg Press) brings together a series of critical essays examining different facets of contemporary art markets. Together they amount to (for me anyway) a damning picture of the dominance of ultrawealth – all that xenospatial offshore money – in making art markets safe for profitable investment. The rise of the international art fair, the increasing role played by expert-collectors in constructing the value of their own colllections, the growth of new markets (particularly in the Middle East and the BRIC countries) are all examined.
I’m sure there are those who would prefer an exhibition and the objects in it to stand for themselves. Doesn’t Lind’s wider political agenda distract from the works on show. Possibly, but for me Abstract Possible is one of the few current projects that intelligently deals with all aspects of the contemporary art world and its difficult relationship to markets. Most importantly, the conjunction of the objects, the exhibitions and the related publications combine both to demonstrate that contemproary art is alive and well – thriving indeed – and that it need not be completely subsumed by the market. Importantly, Lind does not condemn the art market, nor advocate some form of withdrawal from it – indeed her active collaboration with the Bukowskis auction house in Stockholm as part of Abstract Possible has seen her roundly condemned both by those opposing art’s marketization (way too late) and those defending vested interests within it. It seems particularly important that Abstract Possible should appear at Eastside as an artist-run space which, even if it cannot avoid the market, at least marches to its own drum.
My personal interest in Abstract Possible stems from the ongoing inclusion of goldin+senneby’s Headless in many of its iterations. For the Birmingham show, the documentary film Looking for Headless, made by Kate Cooper and Richard John-Jones (and ‘starring’ myself in my favourite role of ‘driveling academic’) will be screened at the Regus Offices in the city on November 15th and 16th. Tickets available from Eastside.