BY Jan Verwoert in Reviews | 07 JUN 02
Featured in
Issue 68

Art & Economy

Deichtorhallen, Hamburg, Germany

BY Jan Verwoert in Reviews | 07 JUN 02

This wide-ranging exhibition celebrated public-private partnerships and the benefits of the 'creative synergy' between the art world and business. At a thematic level this 'synergy' was illustrated by a range of artistic approaches that comment implicitly or explicitly on economic subjects - and by documentation of corporate collecting and corporate sponsorship of art projects. At a more practical level the show itself was the result of close co-operation between the Deichtorhallen and the Siemens Art Programme.

The exhibition was divided into three sections. The first of these, 'Economic Visions', comprised a series of projects instigated by Dirk Luckow of the Siemens Art Programme in which selected artists (Accès Local, Manuela Barth/Barbara U. Schmidt, Plamen Dejanov, Liam Gillick, Eva Grubinger, Swetlana Heger, Daniel Pflumm and Peter Zimmermann) collaborated with a company chosen by them. The second section, 'Art Stories', curated by Beate Henschel from the Siemens Art Programme, documented press discussion of art collecting as an efficient form of capital investment but also looked at the role of art in advertising, from the Absolut Vodka campaign to the use of Helmut Newton photographs in underwear packaging. In a central reading room catalogues and videos issued by corporate art collections were displayed. Here major players such as the Dresdner Bank, Montblanc International GmbH and the Siemens company itself were invited to articulate their view on how art could be usefully integrated into their corporate culture. The third section, 'Economic Turn', curated by Zdenek Felix, head of the Deichtorhallen, and Luckow from the Siemens Art Programme, consisted of artworks that explicitly addressed commercial and financial issues, such as General Idea's Untitled (Mastercard) (1985-6), a painting of acrylic on noodles resembling a Mastercard, and an installation by Matthieu Laurette introducing his ongoing performance project of living solely on consumer refunds.

The main thrust of the exhibition was a simple strategic coup: by highlighting the cultural expertise involved in collecting art and presenting it to the public, the exhibition effectively elevated the corporate sponsor to the status of a cultural producer. Not only did Siemens portray other corporations' art programmes as cultural agencies; the company also demonstrated its own proficiency with art codes by using an aesthetic borrowed from the institutional critique for the 'Art Stories' section. From the reading room to the multimedia installation on art and advertising, the documentary section might as well have been conceived by, for example, Group Material. But putting corporations and cultural producers on a par was like Goliath trying to pass himself off as David - it was a manoeuvre that obscured the vast difference between corporations and individuals in terms of financial and political power.

The absurdity of this ideological dissimulation of power structures was thrown into relief by Eva Grubinger's piece 1:1 (2002). Shortly before the introduction of the Euro on 1 January, Grubinger transferred 30,000 Deutschmarks into the account of the Deutsche Bank and the Siemens AG, as if she was the donor. She then received 30,000 Euros in return, as if a 1:1 exchange rate had been in effect. The Euro is worth roughly twice as much as the Deutschmark though, so that the resulting difference between the two sums (c. 15,000 Euros, the amount estimated for each artist invited to participate) looked not like the actual 'donation', but a slip by the sponsors who confused the currencies. Thus this simple transaction exposed the asymmetry between the two partners whom the exhibition wanted to portray as equals. For most individuals 15,000 Euros is a large sum, but for a large corporation it is peanuts.

Andree Korpys and Markus Löffler also challenged the idea of a reciprocal relationship between art and business. They videoed a number of interviews with the former head of the Federation of German Industry, Hans Olaf Henkel (WODU, 2000). Henkel used the opportunity to play the entrepreneur as avant-gardist, showing off his exquisite collection of Jazz records and articulating his belief that today's true revolutionaries are to be found among the corporate executive élite. Korpys and Löffler in turn used the interviews subtly to portray Henkel as the monstrous incarnation of every element of the new forms of 'smart' capitalism. Watching their video, you couldn't help feeling you were being supplied conspiratorially with information about a planned hostage. No doubt a win-win situation for both sides, albeit one with a vengeance.

Jan Verwoert is a writer and contributing editor of frieze. He is based in Oslo, Norway. Cookie! (2014), a selection of his writings, is published by Sternberg Press.