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The Subject is Finance

Sigalit Zetouni explores money as a subject in art and Derivart, a Spanish interdisciplinary group that created a new field, "finance art."

By SIGALIT ZETOUNI
There weren’t the typical pleasures of summer for Wall Street traders in 2007. A sense of concern about the economy’s future prevailed, amid rising energy costs and sub-prime anguish. Autumn showed further uncertainty, which expanded into the global markets in response to a looming economic recession in the United States. And in the art market, speculation ensued. Quoted in an August article in The New York Times, billionaire art collector Eli Broad predicted that auction results in contemporary art were bound to stumble. “I don’t know if it will happen at the November auctions, or it will happen next May,” he said.
    On November 7, 2007, Sotheby’s “Impressionist and Modern Art” sales totaled $270 million, sharply lower than the estimated numbers. In trading, Sotheby’s stock lost about a third of its value. Yet on November 12, new hopes were generated on Wall Street. The Dow Jones recovered in midmorning trading and climbed 0.5 percent. Citigroup was up 3.8 percent, and major investment firms were trading high. In the art world, the focus was on the upcoming contemporary art auctions. On November 13, Christie’s pulled in an impressive $325 million, with new records for artists such as Jeff Koons, whose eight-foot high “Blue Diamond,” made of polished steel and chromium, sold for $11.8 million. Sotheby’s auction the next evening also proved to be a success, with results just under $316 million, including a cowboy print by Richard Prince that sold for nearly $3.5 million.
    Traders and brokers exert a powerful influence on the art market. Contemporary art, however, has rarely explored stock markets’ role in society. For this reason an interdisciplinary art group from Barcelona—Derivart—set out to create in a new field they called “finance art.” Jesús Rodríguez (plastic artist), Mar Canet (interactive designer) and Daniel Beunza (sociologist of finance at Columbia University) operate at the crossroads of art, technology and finance. They examine social change at the beginning of the 21st century by focusing on interactivity and new media in capital markets.
    In October of 2004, Derivart embarked on its first project. The trio’s interest in stock market dynamics lead them to a Barcelona “theme” bar named La Bolsa (Spanish for “stock market”), where the price of drinks rises and falls depending on demand, with screens showing how much each drink is worth in real time. The more popular the drink, the higher its price and vice versa. Derivart studied the bar and its environment, and the odd mix of social and financial interactions helped them think more broadly about the capital markets. Documenting the bar created the basis for the group’s future projects. “La Bolsa reminded us what makes stock markets special. The combination of money changing hands, digital over-stimulation and intense social interaction, it seems, can be found in bars as much as [on] trading floors,” according to the Derivart website (www.derivart.info).
    Derivart has created multiple works, projects and installations since 2004. The trio curated a group show entitled “Derivatives, new art financial visions” in 2006, which examined non-financial subjects, proposed new artistic perspectives on financial markets and showed a variety of criticisms of the capital markets. One of the exhibiting artists, Fabio Cifariello of Italy, created “Nasdaq Voices.” We initially hear chords of a guitar, gradually the sound of a marimba, and soon an electric piano joins in. With the endless list of musical instruments, a composition is created. What we hear is the movement of shares being traded on Nasdaq. Cifariello employs musical language to generate a financial representation. Instead of complicated diagrams, real time data is converted by computers to produce the algorithmic music. Escaping visuals, the piece is a powerful reflection of the way in which we capture information.
    Before the chords of computers and until the beginning of the 1990s, the sounds of trading were orchestrated by human shouts and frenzy. Chicago-born artist Ira Sapir experienced the drama on the floor. His career in art began in the 1970s, but by 1985 he was looking for a change. Upon visiting a friend who traded futures, Sapir felt the buzz on the trading floor and consequently sold his New York studio, replacing it with a seat of a commodities trader in Chicago. The short experience was an eye-opener in human social interaction.
    These days, back in Chicago, Sapir is showing large steel pieces at Rosenthal Fine Art. Sapir’s sculptural works are formalist, and he paints them in stark black or brilliant white. The first piece, a 10-foot sculpture called “The Messenger,” was purchased by a West Loop collector, who placed it on the roof of his residence on north Morgan Street, making it visible to the public. Sapir explains that by creating a round base he invites the viewer to touch and change the sculpture’s position, and a play of space and light is performed within the sculptural environment.

Published: February 07, 2008
Issue: February 08 Money Issue

Comments

Nice article.
I suggest see their project US Motgager for Iphone. http://www.derivart.info/lab/mortgager
John, Feb-18-2008