Global Wealth in our Gilded Age: Currency

Fall                                                  Waning Back to School Moon

David Little has Embarrassment of Riches divided into three sections:  Currency, Space, Rituals and Style.


Abe Morrel makes pictures of currency.  In Embarrassment of Riches he has two photographs, one of gold bars and the other of Swiss Francs.  The photograph at the right has this title:  39 Gold Bar: $15,372,742 (11 AM/GMT-3/13/08): $988.25/oz Zurich, Switzerland.  The full title is important because Morrel, who likes the materiality of currency, also comments on value.  As the title suggests, value has an ephemeral quality, pegged to an exact moment, uncertain and socially determined.  Yesterday gold reached a new all time high of $1,300 an ounce.  Allison suggested an interesting addition to this photo:  a digital readout of the price of gold as it fluctuates.

This ephemeral quality of value made me reconsider the meaning of currency.  Currency is just that, value at the current moment.

Also in the currency section is a beautiful and initially puzzling image.  Amidst a north woods setting, pine trees and a gray sky, a glittering metal abstraction snakes just along the forest border, extending as if to infinity along with the edge it defines.  What is it?  An oil pipeline carrying oil from northern Alberta.  Ironically, and I suspect unintentionally, this image meshes with a current Sierra Club initiative aimed at bringing awareness to the very high proportion of Minnesota’s oil supply that comes from the Alberta Tar Sands, an oil source that combines wilderness despoliation with climate changing fossil fuel emissions.

An inventory of lamps, members of the Kuwaiti stock exchange sitting in white robes on red leather couches arranged in conversational squares, two cars-a Ford and a Lexus with Chinese models draped sinuously over them and the Luc Delahaye image I talk about below complete the Currency section of the show.

With one exception.  A sock.  That’s right, a man’s sock, displayed on a podium under a plastic vitrine, draped as if just taken off and perhaps thrown on the floor.  How does this fit in the currency section?

Christian Jankowski works with video installation and performance art.  He is the artist behind the sock.  In Embarrassment, in the Rituals and Style section, a Jankowksi piece called, Strip the Auctioneer, shows over and over again.  It features a genuine Christie’s auctioneer, videotaped by Jankowski in the process of selling first his pocket handkerchief, then his suit coat, a shirt, two shoes and two, wait for it, socks!  The auction was a benefit for an arts school, so the bidding was genuine.

David says he doesn’t know whether it is the right sock or the left.  It makes a difference in terms of value:  the right sock sold for $3,047 and the left for $3,324.  Of rituals associated with the life of wealth, an auction at Christies or Sothebys must be close to the top, perhaps after certain prestigious horse races.  Oh, by the way, this photograph shows the auctioneer offering the final item for sale in Jankowski’s piece, the hammer.

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