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Value: Pinching Prices

Commercial value, institutional value, entertainment value, sentimental value, even art value—Foreman Art Gallery director/curator Vicky Chainey Gagnon takes up these notions with a group show proposing alternate perspectives on worth. She writes that “Value” is a bid to zero in on “approaches that take to the streets through direct protest and direct action, that reframe economic systems, and that contemplate how the art market (and its institutions) generate economic and symbolic capital.”

Anchoring the show is New York–based Spanish artist Antonio Muntadas’ 1991 video Between the Frames, Chapter 4: The Museum, one installment of the artist’s quasi-journalistic exploration of the art system as told by its main players: curators, critics, commercial dealers and museum directors. By telephone earlier this week, Chainey Gagnon explained that this is a key grounding point for the exhibition, as it captures the art world on the edge of a major personality crisis—the advent of globalism in the late 1980s and early 1990s—which radically upturned (and continues to upturn) staid modernist notions of institutional structures.

Quebec City duo Cooke-Sasseville (a.k.a. Jean-François Cooke and Pierre Sasseville) wryly weigh in with two works—a jewel-encrusted gold cupcake and a series of prints that track the whittling away of a gold bar into crumbs. It’s not hard to see a critical swipe here at Damien Hirst’s £50-million diamond-encrusted skull from 2007—a landmark high or low for art values, depending on your point of view.

Public-intervention documentation by the New York art collective Red Channels (whose series From Wall Street to Wall Street pre-dated the Occupy movement by half a year) offers a more activist alternative to ideas of value, as does work by Austrian collective WochenKlausur.

The most fascinating (and interactive) suggestions on cultural worth are presented in Anton Vidokle and Julieta Aranda’s Time/Bank. Known for their work with e-flux, Vidokle and Aranda further apply online strategies here; through Time/Bank’s website, users at Foreman and elsewhere can browse, list and trade services—from translation to piano lessons to moving assistance—earning and spending Time/Bank “hour notes” designed by Lawrence Wiener along the way.

Drawing on anarchist, utopian ideals that have led to the development of time banks in the wider, non-art community, it is an attempt to create a “micro-economy” in the cultural realm where value is not predetermined, but is left up to the public to control and create.

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