Art is an economy—it is an exchange of resources, a cycle of production and consumption. At a societal level, we process the environment around us, both conceptually and literally, shaping raw materials to create a personal response—finally inserting it back into the world. The desire to make a mark on our environment is the foundation of culture, which can become art once it is assigned value. The more money is exchanged, the higher the perceived value of the work. Economy is a theme informing the work of many artists, three of which I’ve chosen to feature here for the connections I see in their work.
Danica Phelps is an artist whose work (shown above) includes tracking her income and expenditures, using a palette consisting of different color strokes of watercolor—red for expense, green for income and gray for credit. So Art Forum (May 2001): “Those marks are a constant in a larger, increasingly complex system documenting not only her financial life but also her daily activities and relationships—along with the changing value of her art—making Phelps an obsessive yet whimsical bookkeeper/cataloguer of her own life.” These pieces play a ‘meta’ role in relation to her drawings, which are representational and document moments from her life. It is the creative value of these drawings, in relation to their monetary value, which Phelps is interested in tracking—in that sense, she makes art about art.
Phelps belongs to a range of artists interested in systematically documenting aspects of their lives. An artist with a similar approach is Kate Bingaman, though her interest lies not so much in an exchange or perception of value in relation to art, but in the things we consume every day and how they relate to who we are. She draws the things she buys, one item per day, cataloging these drawings on her web site to create a picture of an artist founded on consumption.
With his piece Seurat’s “Les Poseuses” (Small Version) 1888-1975 (1975), Hans Haacke traces the path of ownership of the painting from its first owner throughout the subsequent generations. The piece essentially consists of biographical information for each owner and notes on how the painting came into their possession, through which it is possible to interpret the changing value of the painting, and further yet the changing political climate over the course of a century. Like Phelps’ work, Haacke’s piece is a commentary on the socioeconomic environment surrounding a particular piece of art, though the statement it makes is generalizable and ultimately independent of the piece it references.