The Trouble with Value at Bunkier Sztuki / Cracow, Poland

The Trouble with Value

16 December 2017 – 18 March 2018

with : Rachel Carey, Fokus Grupa, gerlach en koop, Sława Harasymowicz, Monique
Hendriksen, Femke Herregraven, Gert Jan Kocken, „Kra Kra Intelligence”
Cooperative, Sarah van Lamsweerde, Louise Lawler, Adrian Paci, Ewa
Partum, Mladen Stilinović, Feliks Szyszko, Maciej Toporowicz, Timm

Curated by Kris Dittel and Krzysztof Siatka

Bunkier Sztuki Gallery of Contemporary Art
Szczepański Square 3A, 31-011 Cracow, Poland



photos: Studio filmLOVE

Krzysztof Siatka:
Is it possible to show the mechanisms that are at play when
evaluating an artwork?

And also to show what kind of values an artwork carries
and deals with?

Shall we investigate this topic from an
artistic point of view?

Is it even possible to make a survey of
artistic approaches that deal with all kinds of values? Wouldn’t
that be a lifelong project?
It would, but I don’t see that as a reason to stop! Imagine an
exhibition about this issue!

So tell me, where to start? What kind of
value comes to your mind?

It seems to me that we can talk about two
main kinds of value: monetary and symbolic. For me, more interesting
is of course the symbolic value.
But can you separate the two? Of course, good old Marx has
already taught us the difference between use value, bound to a
concrete useful thing, and exchange value, that is an abstract
socialist category. Even though I think it is impossible to isolate
monetary and symbolic values, I would like us to focus on
interrogating their mutual relationship and the way they are

No, you cannot separate them, but the
mechanism of monetary evaluation of art is more visible and easier to
understand. It can also be easier to create a work inspired by it.

Perhaps the most obvious definition of value
that comes to mind is the economic one. Something that is
quantifiable and measureable. At the same time, when you think about
art and the art market, its mechanisms are vague and confusing. Of
course, there are monetary measures involved, but other
components—symbolic, cultural, ethical et cetera—are also
employed in the creation of value.
For me, everything there was to say about the monetary value of
art was expressed by Yves Klein in his action Zone de Sensibilité
Picturale Immatérielle
[Zone of immaterial pictorial
sensibility] (1959–1962). The work involved selling a proof of
ownership of an empty space, taking the form of a cheque, in exchange
for gold. If the purchasing party wished, the piece could then be
completed in an elaborate ritual that would consist in the buyer
burning the cheque and Klein throwing half of the gold into the

That’s an amusing example! Also, it very
well illustrates the idea that value is after all the greatest
capitalist category—the lens through which everything, all social
relations and objects get evaluated.
Shall we start and try to look into topics and mechanisms which
could be described as reasons to evaluate? Maybe the age-old idea of
an artwork as a monument could be a nice and inspirational starting
point for further discussion ?
Do you have in mind the way an artwork gains importance, or
becomes valued, because it carries some kind of historical

Exactly! The commemorative function of an artwork, one of the
oldest reasons for creation, is visible until today even on the
streets full of monuments. Unfortunately, this language of artistic
expression, which has its origins in the 19th century’s realism, is
usually anachronistic. The most recognised monuments could be
phenomenal artworks and inspire us to better understand the world.
Usually, however, the event or person that is commemorated strongly
influences the evaluation of the sculpture or painting that honours
him or her. It’s hard to find a lot of examples where the form of
the artwork is really related to the commemorated person, place, et
is obvious, and another aspect is even more interesting to me, one
which also follows from this commemorative function. Don’t you
think the work of art as a monument, with all the paradoxes I
suggested before, disclaims the notion of ideological independency of

Rosalind Krauss wrote in the 1970s that the
logic of sculpture is inseparable from the logic of the monument. In
that sense, a sculpture is always a commemorative representation; it
has its particular place and speaks a symbolic language. Since then
many artists have challenged the idea of sculpture, its materiality
and language, yet I can still relate to this original statement. And
perhaps it is also possible to expand this idea to a larger domain of
art. Of course, when we think of monuments, the first thing that
comes to mind is large public sculptures, commemorating historical
figures and events. And with time, they often lose their relevance,
or the original meaning gets forgotten.

Even the examples of conceptual art function
as monuments today. Could you describe an artwork that carries such

The photographic installation of Gert
Jan Kocken
titled Judenporzellan
examines the coerced purchases of
decorative porcelain figures from the royal porcelain factory under
Frederick the Great, king of Prussia, in the late 18th century. In
order to obtain certain certificates and enjoy civil rights, the
Jewish population was forced into buying the porcelain ape figurines;
allegedly one of them belonged even to philosopher Moses Mendelssohn.

Such examples of works show a cognitive
problem. I think I could describe it as: the impossibility of
separating the evaluation of the work itself from the evaluation of
the idea that determined its origin. I mean not only the idea
invented by the artist but also the inspiration they found in
I don’t think that separation is even necessary. Judenporzellan
consists of large photo prints, a human-scale representation of
the ape figures, a booklet with items of information about their
history, and stacks of posters that visitors can take with them.
These images, visually very compelling, may end up in someone’s
room as a poster and become a private companion. And at one point one
may recall the story and contemplate it. The work deals with a
complex historical narrative, but it has the potential to enter a
more private sphere.

Consider the idea of a monument also in the
case of more personal events, when the relation between the thing
being commemorated and the individual is closer. A way to deal with,
or even exorcise personal history?

Do you have in mind artworks with personal narratives, which can
lead us to think through the notion of an artwork as a monument?
Sława Harasymowicz
prepared for us an installation called 12/6.
It is a reflection over a place where she spent a few years in her
childhood. The project documents the transformation of the structure
of an apartment. The artist talks about it using many languages:
drawing, graphic art, photography, Morse code, several short poems,
et cetera. In this way the story becomes more and more saturated, but
not more communicative. The spectator is not able to read the story
of her life, only to experience the entropy inspired by her early
years. The private monument of her story remains in fact silent to
the audience.

Could you elaborate on where you see the
question of creating and perceiving value in this respect? Is it
about a reflection of personal or subjective values when encountering
an artwork?

KS: Sure, let’s
get back to the topic. I like to imagine an artwork’s form as a
kind of gatekeeper that is preventing the full understanding of the
plot. The communicative power is an important distinction to
consider. The communicative power is an important distinction to
consider. It seems to be one of the possible ways to understand the
heritage of the early avant-garde and later art. For my private view
on the 20th-century and contemporary art history, an
important contribution is also contained in the expression “art is
a lie” by Picasso. These points of view determine further questions
to ask: “Who’s lying?” and “Who’s lied to?”.
Paradoxically, such an order could give supremacy to the spectator,
who is of course fooled. She or he is probably more important to us,
because each exhibition is prepared for an audience, whose reaction
in turn determines our work. Certainly a person who knows and has the
tools to interpret is privileged.  


I’d like to complete your Picasso quote,
and that may also answer some of your doubts. As far as I know, the
quote says in full: “art is a lie that makes us realise truth, at
least the truth that is given us to understand”. I interpret it as
a way to express that art only imitates reality, yet by doing so it
also has the potential to unveil some otherwise obscured thuths. And
that may lie in the objecthood of an artwork, in its communicative
power, and so on. 


You’re right. At the same time you pointed out how quotes and
cliches work: in isolation from the context and sometimes incomplete.
There lie the roots of incomprehension. To me, the only inspirational
part of what Picasso said is “a lie”. Thoughts of truth bring me
always astray, however this time we approached a reflection on the
language of art, its use and function. In this context, evaluation is
controversial, because it would be ridiculous to compare the
interaction between art object and its spectator to a typical
communicative situation. Traditionally, during a conversation we
learn something, in contrast to standing in front of an artwork, when
we can only gain awareness. Such a situation can give us only new
questions and no answers. Treating a work of art as a guide,
instruction or information, we are doomed to eternal wanderings. Is
it not a paradox?


Hmm… Maybe that is a question for
epistemology, and in that sense knowledge as such is not so
important. Rather, what’s valuable is understanding, and in that
sense the understanding of an artwork may happen outside the terms of
language or expertise. To change our focus a little bit, I would like
to bring up another aspect important when thinking about various
concepts of value and art. Instead of an art object, let’s think
about the person of the artist as a maker.

An artist as maker is usually considered an
individual; many classical masters are talked about in terms of the
artistic genius. But what does it take to create and what forms of
knowledge are considered in this process? Is it only the work of art
made by such a genius that is of importance?

I think where you are heading is a set of questions we considered
when inviting artist Reinaart Vanhoe to the exhibition. He has been
engaged for a long time in the issues of collectivity and
collaboration, not only among artists but also among people who are
not necessarily trained in art as professionals; working together
with an employee of Bunkier Sztuki, Agnieszka Tyman, they came up
with the idea of initiating a certain cooperative, named Kra
Kra Intelligence


What is the purpose of this collective?
KD: The
collective involves more employees of the Gallery, and they
collaborate with another cooperative, “Ogniwo” from Krakow, too.
They call the outcome “Krakow receptionist art”— an
art form that welcomes visitors, happens at the “front desk” of
the institution, in the literal as well as the symbolic sense. “Kra
Kra Intelligence” looks into what kind of knowledge there is in the
institution and what sense of agency can be created through this
joint process. Their expanding programmes—information on actions
and the “additional wing of the exhibition” located in private
spaces—are announced on an info-board in front of Bunkier Sztuki.
Along with this process, the cooperative also questions the idea of
artistic work and what can be considered as such.

From certain other perspectives we could also look at some
neo-avant-garde artistic practices. We have well-known examples, such
as Mladen Stilinović’s piece Artist at
from 1978: a series of photographs documenting the
artist at rest.

He wrote a short text The
Praise of Laziness
where he calls for times
of idleness, doing nothing. He also defined laziness as “a time of
pain, a futile concentration” and called for practicing it to
perfection, especially as an artist. The pragmatic might think he
expressed the necessity to “do nothing” in order to make way for
the flow of ideas, but what I really think he was advocating for was
a genuine nothingness as a practice. Thinking about it from today’s
perspective, in the hectic world we live in the most luxurious
activity I can imagine is to do nothing. Can you imagine such a

Sure, and it’s easy to find examples in our time: the slow food
or slow email movement, for instance.

On a different note, the title of that piece includes the word
“work”. Thus, here the practice of laziness, or doing nothing, is
still considered labour. In a subversive way, I think, Stilinović
expressed his concerns about the perception of artistic work in
society and the way artistic labour is valued.
His expression is a subversive sign that is emblematic for that
period. You can see similar attitudes in other attempts from that
time. We have decided to give the audience a new edition of a certain
artwork, an old mail art classic made by Ewa Partum:
the sentence Now My Idea Is a Golden Idea (1974)
pressed on the covers of an exhibition invitation. This is a
connection between the immateriality of the idea and its monetary
value, related to the meaning and symbolism of gold.

Indeed, the artist’s persona here is someone who can channel a
unique experience and create a specific piece of art. The original
work of Ewa Partum existed as a sentence printed on an exhibition
invitation card including all the necessary information about the
opening and venue. In fact the art piece was not the postcard but an
immaterial concept. The only remaining copy of the exhibition
invitation card is in Ewa Partum’s possession, and as the last copy
it also became symbolically valuable to her, to such an extent that
she would not lend it for the exhibition. Yet she agreed to the
reproduction of the card. Somewhat paradoxically, with her permission
we have materialised this work, which is now available to the
exhibition’s visitors.

That invitation is related to an interesting story from her
gallery Adres in Łodź, from 1972–1977. The film Documentation
of the Adres Gallery (1972) included Ewa Partum into the
exhibition shows as an artist, performer, animator, feminist and…
avant-garde hero. In her gallery she exhibited conceptual art and
documentation of works by Fluxus artists.

1975 Wiesław Borowski, a famous Polish critic, wrote an infamous
text entitled Pseudoawangarda [Pseudo-avant-garde], which
caused a polemic and a large row in the local art world. He accused
Polish artists of inadvertently imitating Western standards. He used
examples to illustrate the “low quality” of this movement, among
them Now My Idea Is a Golden Idea. He tried to establish an
anti-canon of the worst art in Poland. Yet, as time has shown,
artworks from his list belong in the mainstream of the Polish art

Do you think Maciej Toporowicz’s artwork comes out of
this tradition, Polish mail art in particular? The piece titled Forza
is an envelope that was posted from Italy to New York
in 1994, but what is specific about it is a postal stamp depicting
the fascist leader Benito Mussolini.

His idea follows this tradition of mail art, but it’s a late
example from the 1990s, and it would be good to interpret it in the
context of the Italian reality of that period. It was a reaction to
the situation when a far-right party came to power again. Here I see
another interesting point, because creating and using a new postal
stamp is an illegal activity.

the situation when a far-right party came to power again. 
So the artist, again reflecting on a historically and politically
significant event, is also taking a personal risk—the forgery of a
postal stamp as an illegal activity.
The idea of a personal risk is significant nowadays when
capitalism operates on the basis of individual risk.

Definitely! Think of how debts are
accumulated and risk is taken by individuals. We are not only
consumers but also risk-taking subjects, and even the products
themselves in the era of late capitalism.

Let’s think of it this way: an artist as producer and an
artwork as a product or asset and an audience as a target.

The work of Femke
, Sprawling
, might resonate with the issue you
raise. The film is a prototype for an interactive environment; it
maps fictional infrastructures and geographical instability. Femke
uses satellite and self-generated imagery that maps unstable
territories—swamps, ice caps, shifting shorelines—in order to
probe into the cracks in our contemporary value system and imagine
possible new forms of value. Such new values that emerge may be
exhaustion, gossip, or even empathy. The poetic narration resonates
with the topic of labour, yet in an unexpected way: “Contaminated
soil, exhausted mind. The goal was to make a sleepless soldier, but
the scandal of sleep has been abandoned. … [I]nsomnia is a time of
indifference yet here only paid with the currency of exhaustion.”
Facing her installation is a video work Naturally False by
Monique Hendriksen, with very seductive imagery.

Monique uses images that seem quite familiar, yet these
landscapes also look oddly unnatural, artificial, as if coming from
the future. She is seeking an aesthetic that could represent our
contemporary state of capitalist realism, but instead of searching
for new images and compositions, she is in quest for models that
could represent the invisible—as

depict abstractions, in her words. All images and sounds in the film
come from copyright-free sources and are then recomposed into a new
pattern which is again radically copyrightfree. In doing so she aims
at thoughts of overcoming the neoliberal myth of individualism and
rationality in art.

As far as I understood, her work is deeply
rooted in philosophy, too.

Yes, her work draws its inspiration from
Alfred Sohn-Rethel’s theory of real abstraction, an abstraction
that appears without a conscious effort, something that precedes
thought. This abstraction takes place for instance when people
exchange commodities and abstract their values in order to facilitate
that exchange. She looks into the effects of such abstraction in our
contemporary era of late capitalism.
It seems to me we can now pause for a moment
and consider the subject of abstraction in art. Although this art
phenomenon has a century-long tradition, it still succeeds in
determining interesting narratives and reflections. As far as I
remember Plato’s philosophy, he did not value visual art toomuch,
because it was reproductive. Artists have understood abstraction in
various ways since the beginning of the 20
century: they tried to express spirituality—Wassily Kandinsky, the
pure sense of form—Kazimir Malevich, or created aesthetic treatises
on the order of the universe—Piet Mondrian.
present the work of Feliks Szyszko titled Art Box
Mondrian (1972). The neoplastic composition of the
image has been transformed into a net which can be made into a cube
decorated with Mondrian’s characteristic colours. I am fascinated
by the transformation of values in this example: the visual treatise
translated into the form of a simple toy. I remember that Claes
Oldenburg once compared a sculpture of Hans Arp to spilled ketchup. I
think Feliks Szyszko was on a similar path.
When it comes to abstraction in art, I always
feel that its early makers in the 20
century, like Mondrian, did not worry as
much about its evaluation in their present. They felt their visions
would be vindicated by the transformed future society; they truly
believed that the aesthetic values they created would have an
acknowledged function in everyday life. Perhaps today there is less
confidence in art as a provider of utopian societal values, there’s
a strong focus on the present. Perhaps from this presentness, another
artist group featured in the exhibition,
, is trying to look into future
possibilities. They use the tools of narration, statistical
extrapolation, fiction, and their material is the system of art
institutions and their relations—relations of power—in shaping
this scenario.
They decided to make an installation, Map
of Invisible Matter
, about how certain
institutions and their activities are involved in generating symbolic
value in art. Fokus Grupa uses the e-flux client list as a source of
information, focusing more on e-flux as an institution. They are
looking at the network of relations among different actors of the art
world that have been receiving e-flux newsletters and announcements.
Their goal is to show the connections between actors and geographical

Yes, the importance of e-flux as a journal,
advertising platform and enterprise for the art world has grown since
its foundation in the 1990s. Over the past two decades it came to
dominate the flow of information such as exhibition announcements,
and also the discourse of art. Fokus Grupa created an animated map of
e-flux activity between 2000 and 2017, which spotlights the
activities of e-flux clients and their performance. This animation is
an extraction of information from an enormous database they have
built, containing infrastructural, factual data on art institutions
worldwide, based on their activity and participation on e-flux.
Additional data and further visualisations can be accessed on the
project’s website at

You’ve mentioned the dominance of this
organisation regarding the art discourse.

KD: Well, yes,
and it is also interesting how all e-flux announcements reinforce the
power structures of language.

You mean the art language, the jargon of art,
or one particular national language?

In fact, both. A lot has been said about the
shortcomings of art world semantics; many are critical of its
oftentimes empty yet grandiose jargon. In many cases it is a relevant
point, but we also have to look at the dominance of the English
language in art—just as in, for instance, scientific fields—and
what kind of “Englishes” are allowed to enter. Here we are, both
of us non-native English speakers, weaving together the threads of an
exhibition in English. Once we transcribe our conversation, it will
be proofread, smoothened, made universally “correct”. Yet I
wonder what kind of essence will be “lost in translation”, or in
the process of perfecting our vocabularies and grammars…

Again, Mladen
gave us a good conclusion in the
beginning of the 1990s:
An Artist Who
Cannot Speak English is No Artist.

Yes, it is a very pertinent work, and we can
expand it to the entire art world: interns, gallery assistants,
production managers, curators, et cetera. But can you relate it to
the visitors too? “A spectator who cannot speak English is no

Sure. Here we can see the power structure and
exclusivity of language, and the dominance of English in particular.

Thinking about the role of language in
creating value, apart from the dominant jargon, we can also consider
it from another point of view: the role of narration and the use of
language as material of an artwork. For instance, there is the
performance of
Sarah van Lamsweerde,
a common story

…and what’s more, it’s in Polish! The
performance revolves around found, fictional or factual narratives of
art objects. The work takes the form of a classic art auction, and
although an art object is indeed presented on a plinth, what can be
purchased, as opposed to a conventional sale, is the story behind it.
Each word of the story must be sold to willing bidders before it can
be told as part of a narrative whole. The audience in attendance
blindly shapes the tale, through the frame of their own consuming
desires, in advance of the story being recounted. Inspired by writing
and translation—for which one often gets paid per word—van
Lamsweerde created a performance in which stories are sold and shared
word for word. Unsold words affect the story being told. Upon
purchasing a word, each of the new owners receives a certificate of
authenticity stating his or her share in the story, which leads to a
situation where a work of art is not owned by one but by several

In Sarah van Lamsweerde’s performance,
while she makes use of a certain structure of the art system, that is
an auction, language becomes commodity.
is another type of “sale” going on at the exhibition, a project
by Rachel Carey, Liquidate It All Away. The idea
of this work refers to difficult circumstances: when people lose the
ability to pay off their debts and their personal belongings are
being sold off for cash. Rachel created a series of clay sculptures,
often inspired by objects in possession of Bunkier Sztuki. These
sculptures, together with objects destined for liquidation from the
institution and other items for sale, are evaluated by a professional
agent. The agent prices these objects based on their use value: a
clay copy of a soap dispenser may be evaluated for its material or
its potential use as, for instance, a paperweight, rather than for
its artistic value as a sculpture.
And, of course, all objects with a price tag are available to the
visitors for the stated amount of money.

Indeed. What happens here is that we get a
chance to feel the difference between an object’s use value,
conditioned by the evaluation process on the part of the agent, and
something rather symbolic, subjective—the value we ascribe to an
art object. Also, yet again, the language is important: the term
liquidity does not
only refer to the fluidity of water, for instance, but also to a
feature of assets that are easily convertible to cash.

Language and narrative seems to be an
important thread in our project.

And apart from just making use of language, many artists create
artworks in which it becomes a really essential part. They think of
it not as a tool but rather as material. In these instances, language
is not something outside the artwork but an integral part of it. I
see this process also in the work of gerlach en koop. Their
work is situated precisely at the border between the materiality of
an object and language. The piece titled Dispersion is
a good example of it. What you see is an abstract, painting-like
image. As a spectator you

likely turn to the title card of this work to see the name of the
artist, and so on. What you will also read is the material of the
work: sandpaper and a one euro coin. Having read this information
you’ll likely arrive at the conclusion that the whirling shapes on
the sandpaper-canvas were created using the coin, which ultimately
dispersed, dissolved. I can reveal to you that the defaced coin is
hidden inside the frame of the work. So you come closer to this
artwork by understanding its materiality and as I or the title card
reveal more.
gerlach en koop has an elusive presence throughout the exhibition.
Visitors may notice two granite blocks that protrude from the gallery
walls in two locations. These are socalled vide-poches, French
for “empty pockets”—trays designed for collecting ones and
other coins, keys, transport tickets et cetera; they are usually
positioned near entrance doors, in order to keep all these small
items organised. What’s more, the pair of them at the exhibition is
identical to the ones found in the vaults of Generale de banque in
Brussels [now part of BNP Paribas Fortis—author’s note]. Generale
de banque was a bank that once belonged to the largest-ever companies
in Belgium [Societe generale de Belgique—author’s note] and has
an intriguing history, involving colonialism, various takeovers,
share drops and government interventions.
I think we should devote more attention to the mechanisms of
seeing. In 1967 Roland Barthes suggested in his essay The Death of
a new way of interpreting a work of art. He gave us the
tools to emancipate the spectator, he proclaimed the birth of the
. It is evident that viewers of contemporary art use mainly
their sense of sight. I think that one’s ease of seeing and
understanding has a direct impact on the evaluation of a given
Would that be a reason to include in this discussion a member of
the famous Pictures Generation, Louise Lawler? The
photographer of iconic artworks, a director of gaze, one may say. Her
images depict artworks in situ: surrounded by their everyday
environment, with their frames and other distortions that influence
our perception of a work of art. She has been looking for such
specific vantage points for the past thirty years of her activity,
yet here we decided to show a piece from a recent body of work,
titled Moon (Placed and Pulled),
2014/2015. This work is a tracing of an original image from her
archive, entitled Moon. It looks almost like a document or a
copy of the original. Moreover, the image is distorted—we can
hardly recognise what we’re looking at—it is tailored for the art
institution, demonstrating what a picture can do.
Pay attention to the part of the title of the work which is in
brackets: Placed and Pulled. Digital data editing was
involved, and this activity destroyed the original photography. The
picture is broken! The work introduces us to another perspective on
error in the era of post-internet aesthetics.
another aspect I would like to go back to is the labour of artists,
craftsmen in the creation of an artwork, maybe also the outsourcing
in artistic production. From an economic point of view, this is an
important aspect that determines the value of an object. We chose to
show a film by Adrian Paci titled The Column,
about the production and the weeks-long transport of marble columns.
I am intrigued by the use of that motif of the column. It is one of
the most obvious ancient architectural features that connect us with
the great civilisations of the past. The column is also an element of
the ancient temple, and belongs to the sacred sphere. The column is
the base for architectural construction, which has its symbolic
meaning. The Corinthian column used by the artist symbolises
durability, immutability, and antique elegance. I think the film is a
commentary on the roots of European culture—but don’t you also
see a critical analysis in it?
I don’t think I can sign up to saying that the work comments on
the roots of European culture; it rather points at the trade
relations in the globalised world: a European aesthetic model being
reproduced on a Chinese cargo ship. I think the work binds together
two seemingly contrasting ideas: on one hand, the need to hold on to
an old standard of beauty, and on the other, the current trade routes
and work conditions that make it possible. On the way, a rough piece
of marble is being shred of its material surplus until a flawless
column emerges out of smoke and dust in all its perfection on the
European shoreline. The creation of one form requires the destruction
of another.
In relation to this I would also like to talk about the notion of
iconoclasm. First and foremost, it joins our discourse from the
ancient and the Byzantine eras, when a Christian was afraid to
imagine the shape of God in an artistic creation. Maybe it was one of
the first manifestations of the abstract art movement, maybe I’m
also naive, having studied the matter too briefly, without
understanding theological writings. What determines my thinking is in
fact the ambiguity of an event when an artwork is devastated. Whoever
destroys an artwork inspired by some ideology or religion, wants to
erase the art piece. Such an act is actually the birth of the victim,
who will always remain in a privileged position within the mechanism
of evaluation. We regret the destroyed works regardless of whether
they were valuable or not. Maybe I should try this: is the process of
destruction a form of creation? Not in a philosophical sense. I am
talking about examples from contemporary art.
We don’t have to come as close to the present as contemporary
art in order to find relevant examples. In my opinion, the paradox of
physical iconoclasm is that the destruction of images always produces
new images. For instance, when I think of iconoclasm during the
Protestant Reformation, I recall detailed 16th-century etchings and
paintings that illustrated the acts of demolishing statues and
interior decorations in churches. Coming back to your question, I’d
like to give an example from the contemporary era. Do you remember,
from the recent years, the videos of ISIS, or Daesh, depicting the
destruction of ancient artworks and museums in today’s Iraq and
Syria? They are also very well aware of this mechanism, and are using
it for their own purposes.
You described it like a form of strategy, which is determined by
the goals and oriented towards the production of certain images.
Eventually the religious or philosophical reasons are translated by
mass media, and it changes the scope of the impact. Here the
mediation of the media makes the monument of the situation. It seems
to me that each side, the destroyer as well as the victim, could use
that for their own purposes.
One of the artists featured in our exhibition, Gert Jan
, produced a series of artworks, large-scale photographs,
that depict what the iconoclasm left behind in the Netherlands,
Germany and Switzerland. His compelling pictures precisely point to
the power of images that were created by destruction. In our
exhibition we don’t have a work from that series, but the one on
show is in a way related.
Once again we got back to the topic of artwork as monument. In
that particular case, photography could be used as a means of
commemoration. But what we decided to present is Madonna of
Nagasaki, Defacement 9 August
1945: a
photographic portrait of a sculpture from the Urakami Cathedral,
which was destroyed in a bombing in 1945. The face of the figure was
burnt, and so it acquired a new expression. The sculpture was not a
target of destruction; one can say it was destroyed by chance. The
artist noticed the incredible, demonic expression of the figure and
documented it using photography. The destruction of this work in 1945
had been a step towards its life after death, which started when Gert
Jan disclosed the photograph to us in the 21st century.
Something tempts me here to quote Fyodor Dostoyevsky, who said, “true
art is always contemporary”. I have no intention of wondering what
true art is, but I do find in this sentence some important
inspirations. It seems to me that the present value is above all a
result of reflections and experiences of people of different ages.
The outcome of this process cannot be fully predicted. Although the
artist assumes kindness, determination and competence on the part of
the audience, the value of any work seems to be shaped not quite
Indeed the historical significance of the Madonna sculpture
contributes to the way we value this artwork. It sheds light on the
tragic event of the bombing of Nagasaki in 1945 and makes a grim
account of the Catholic minority in Japan—it certainly is a carrier
of memory. Yet what I find stunning is the affective quality of that
image. Like you said, it still speaks to us more than seventy years
on, captured in that photograph. The hollow eyes of the sculpture are
confronting with our own subjectivism and experiences.

At the very end of the show we have a delightful addition, and
maybe a kind of conclusion to our trouble. A blind man pictured, his
eyes behind dark glasses, a cane in his hand, and on his chest, a
sign with the following inscription: Ich kann keine Kunst
mehr sehen
. That means: “I cannot see art anymore”. The photo
is a documentation of the artist’s performance during the Cologne
Art Fair in 1975. That work, for me personally, is the ultimate
example for when I think that there is nothing more to say… After
all, how are we to look at artworks if they are not visible, or
similar to the ordinary life, or if there are too many of them to
notice the good one?
poster we present is an edition of this work available for purchase
at 20 euro. Each copy is signed by the artist! You can see the work,
the same that we have bought for The Trouble with Value show,
in the collection of photography at Fotomuseum Winterthur.
– –

an array of artworks, the curators came across some intriguing voices
telling a tangled story about the symbolic and economic value
a work of art holds, being a product of its creator’s
labour; and there came hope that these would provide some insights
into contemporary notions of value and value systems surrounding us.
the exhibition is an attempt to capture certain aspects of artists’
relationships with their works—ones which establish such values as
well as those forging the connection between art institutions and the
art market.
An artist’s work is
subject to various assessments, expressed from the perspective of
experts and dependent upon many—and often divergent—desires and
needs. Among the actors of this judgemental spectacle there are
curators, critics, art historians, philosophers, art dealers, and of
course the public too; institutions and laws of the art market
complete the disposition. The whole makes a not quite
transparent set of determinants that is difficult to break down. As
usual, it is much easier to reflect on the past, for a look back
provides examples of views and ideologies that defined—perhaps in
too simple a way, one compromised from the present point of
view—values and ‘quality’ of artistic creations. This is how
the canon of art developed to reach a condition when, despite
continual redefinition and deconstruction, it changes steadily at the
most. Well, don’t we all like tunes we already know?
Critics, curators and
audiences struggle with disorderly, polyphonic magma of information.
That noise, although tremendously stimulating to the mind, does not
always facilitate perception and the formulation of appraisals.
Still, adjectives such as ‘new’, ‘original’, ‘significant’,
‘demanding’ or ‘radical’ always come in handy. And this is
where the question arises which is crucial for the exhibition: Is
access to knowledge not being obstructed, and the logic of creating
symbolic value not situated beyond the players’ awareness? Presence
of certain logic is perceptible after all, and we struggle with its
consequences every day. Perhaps it’s easier to make out merely the
effects of this complicated process; its workings and dynamics are
hardly ever described in a way to be considered satisfactory. It
looks somewhat as if we know without understanding, look without
seeing, judge without indispensable tools; as if we believe in all
sorts of established judgements that never really appealed to us.

To investigate the
sources of an artwork’s value, the values it may create and the
value systems it is subject to, in the light of the above, is an
arduous task, if not simply naïve—for all methods, theories and
ideologies fail. Only poets and artists can rise to the challenge and
make their individual contributions by producing impressions on this
matter. It is impossible to lay out the basic arguments in
a one-and-only, clear and precise manner—but it is possible to
single out at least several attitudes, within practices of
contemporary artists, as noticeably reflecting on the difficult
process of cultivating value in a work of art. One such is,
without a doubt, careful consideration of the role of language
in building narratives and giving works meaning so that they are
either comprehensible or deliberately entropic.
presented array of approaches provides models of paradoxical
situations as well, such when the outcome contradicts the aim. So it
happens in the event of intentional destruction of an artwork
whenever this action strengthens the viewers’ respect for the piece
itself. Alike is the state of helplessness experienced when
confronted with works commemorating momentous or tragic historical
events, since there is no way one could separate reflection on the
artwork from that on the story contained therein. Nor is there a way
to evade, considering the viewpoint adopted in the exhibition, such
issues as the impact of art institutions’ infrastructure and the
value of artists’ labour, which lead the account astray, far from
an ideal world, straight into politics and economics of precarity. 
second part of the exhibition The Trouble with Value will be
presented at Onomatopee project space and publishing house in
Eindhoven, in the first half of 2018.

The exhibition is part of the
project “Beyond the Zero Point. Contemporary
Art and Its Appearances”, co-financed by the
Mondriaan Fund.