The 2017 Whitney Biennial
Art collectives Occupy Museums + Debtfair depict the crushing burden of artist debt at The Whitney.
Art collectives Occupy Museums + Debtfair have slashed open a big portion of The Whitney’s majestic wall space (above), leaving a gaping, jagged rift that doubles as an artistic and statistical infographic, illustrating the vertiginous debt positions and risk-adjusted returns of BlackRock, a financial monolith that oversees the assets of over 190 pension funds, banks, endowments, insurance companies, ETFs, hedge funds and artists’ debt loads (BlackRock basically rules the world). The agitprop exhibit presents the plight of contemporary artists burdened by financial debt, mainly from student and personal loans, relative to the “debt-issuing profiteers of the booming art-as-asset economy.”
According to curators Christopher Lew and Mia Locks, the Biennial aims “to gauge the state of art in America today through a socio-economic filter.” The titillating art on display there now takes a deep dive into socio-economic structures, systemic risk, the rise of ironic aesthetic and cultural narratives, and continual attempts to set historical records straight, especially in the realm of economics and finance. Which is why this installation is such a compelling meditation on economic disparity and financial leverage. But unfortunately, in VIVISXN‘s humble view, it chastizes the very institutions that enable and underpin the Occupy collectives, who are “irrationally exuberant” when it comes to assigning blame to financiers.
For the current version of Debtfair (images above), the collective generated a survey for American artists (with a focus on those from Puerto Rico) on the website debtfair.org, aggregating data from over five hundred applicants. Selected works from thirty of these indebted artists were then literally embedded into The Whitney‘s wall and aggregated according to the type of debt that they owe. The exhibit points to the ways in which the art institution itself benefits from credit assets and distressed debt. Debt markets (currently valued at over $40.2 trillion according to the Bank for International Settlements), generate lucrative profits for many market participants, nimble institutions and traders, many of whom sit on The Whitney’s governing board. In the Biennial, this relationship is embodied in the figure of Larry Fink, a trustee at the Museum of Modern Art and BlackRock‘s CEO (BlackRock trades every debt asset class and is specifically portrayed in the exhibit). Works in Debtfair are plotted on a graph that situates an art object’s “precarious value between the fault lines of an increasing trade in debts on one hand and the ultra lucrative market for contemporary art on the other.” With Debtfair, Occupy Museums calls on artists and viewers to “recognize that rising debts destabilize American art communities while delivering profits to elites, therefore necessitating resistance.” Hmm, a dubious proposition indeed.
VIVISXN – Art + Culture + Finance + Economics