What’s a piece of art really worth? A month-long holiday in Brazil; a
year of therapy sessions; a personal wake up call every morning; maybe a
kidney? It’s time to find out. From Dec. 9 through 12, Art Barter, an “exchange
between artist and the public,” say its curators, is coming to New York—to NP Contemporary Art Center on Chrystie Street, to be exact. There
are more than 30 artists contributing work for the New York version of the
exhibition, which has previously taken place in London and Berlin. The artists
include sculptors, photographers, painters and graphic artists whose work range
in both style and price level.
The exhibition, in which pieces of art are exchangeable for anything
other than money, is appealing to some local artists thanks to its
unconventional methods of payment. “It sounds like a fun idea to trade in your
art for something valuable that is not money” says East Village-based
photographer Asger Carlsen who has a piece in the exhibition. “It’s something
that is in fashion photography a lot. Quite often you get offered a pair of
jeans to shoot an image” notes Carlsen. Elizabeth Gregory Gruen, a visual
artist also participating, is quick to point out, “the notion of bartering has
been around forever—it has always been apart of our human history.”
While it may be the norm for up-and-comers to work sans fee as a means
of publicity, big name artists involved in Art Barter, including Carlsen, who
has recently shown at the Open House Gallery, and Tim Barber, creator of
Tinyvices, an online gallery and image archive, often sell their work for
thousands of dollars. But it doesn’t seem to be a deterrent.
“I think it is acceptable now because everyone is struggling,” says
Carlsen. “It’s not really a good way to make a living in the long run. But it
is very suitable for this time. Because you know, no one has money… it’s very
Gruen adds, “The other issue is understanding and respecting copyright.
There is a whole generation that does not know or care about this.” When asked
if she would be comfortable accepting bartering as a new means of payment.
Gruen says “As an addition to the business, sure, why not. As the norm, no.”
The curators of Art Barter,
Lauren Jones and Alix Janta say that the idea came about in early 2009 when
they realized there was a shift in how people were getting hold of what they
needed and wanted. Free pop-up stores started appearing everywhere along with
markets solely dedicated to the forgotten notion of multilateral trade, so it
seems only fitting that this trend would filter through to art.
As there are no profits, Jones and Janta rely on investors’ support and
donations. Eventually, they hope to create a barter website similar to the
exhibitions, but on a more global platform in order to further the
accessibility of fine art. While the artists involved have the option to accept
or decline the proposed method of payment, the previous Art Barter exhibitions
have had a high success rate of over 70% of the art works being exchanged. The
exchanges are made after the exhibition is over and the artists have chosen
whether to accept or decline the offers made.
Although anyone is able to
bid whatever they have in exchange for a work, the name of the artist whose
work one is bidding on is not made public. Jones and Janta specify that they
kept the works’ creator unspecified in order to “make
the viewer value the artworks outside of the art market.”
So, while some may fear
that initiatives that exempt monetary value from the art world pose a threat to
the world itself, it’s undeniable that the purpose of art is to be seen and
interpreted. Whether you like a piece or not, it should be your right to see it
and if you like it, have the chance of owning it. Any exhibition or idea that
takes the hype out of art and makes it accessible to a new audience has to be
commended. Plus, when else can you trade a human organ for a sculpture?