30th May 2013

The Fairest Exchange? On art, money and ‘artmoney’

In The Philosophy of Money (1907) Georg Simmel described the rise of a modern society where individuals were encouraged to enter into cold, calculative relationships by the increasingly standardised and uniform nature of commercial exchange. Simmel saw how the burgeoning demands of modern trade led to the development of standard monies and ways of transacting – no longer was it necessary to develop or inhabit some specific, local system of exchange or to trade only with those individuals with whom one had come to know and develop a social reciprocating bond; money, as Simmel put it, was entirely ‘conducive to the removal of the personal element from human relationships’ (2004, p.297). Money – as Marx and Weber had also observed – had come to operate as the purest form of means. So while notes and coins may have dazzled and shone, they also drained the world of colour.

Artmoney is produced by around 1000 artists worldwide and is globally traded and exchanged with other artists, buyers and businesses. Artmoney can be freely produced by anyone registered with the project through the artmoney website (http://artmoney.org/) and, like conventional currencies, has some standard rules of design. Artmoney must measure 12×18 cm (in order that it resembles a banknote) and only durable materials may be used. Each piece of art money must show a serial number, the year of production, the artmoney URL and the name, signature and nationality of the artist. The only other proviso is that artmoney must be an original work of art. Like conventional currency, artmoney has a market price. Each piece of artmoney is purchased for 200 Danish Kroner (currently about £20, 26 Euro or $34)[1].

Artmoney

Currently around 50 registered businesses (including cafés and bars, galleries, various retailers, even a psychotherapist) accept artmoney as part payment for goods and services. While art-money is ostensibly a global currency, most of these businesses are located in Copenhagen and other parts of Denmark. However artmoney artists are also encouraged to spend artmoney in any non-registered businesses where ‘acceptance can be found’. Project founder Lars Kraemmer claims to have bought his stereo, computer and fridge with artmoney and even used it to finance a trip around America.

Unlike Simmel’s world of impersonal money, artmoney has a double function – utilitarian, yes, but also affective and communicative.  By using original art as money, both artists and non-artists are brought into a distinctive and provocative economic and communicative space – one that is simultaneously both ‘primitive’ (relying on the exchange of distinctive rather than standardised objects, marked by personal impress) and ‘modern’ (offering a counter or critique of financial convention and state fiat monies).

But does money as art, and art as money, generate an ideal harmony of the instrumental and aesthetic spheres? My forthcoming article in Cities[2] suggests it might – but only to a limited degree. In seeking to re-personalise monetary exchange, a number difficulties emerge. These derive not least from artmoney’s ambiguous status as both a general commodity (i.e. money) and a singularity (i.e. an original art object) and the fact that – at the point of transaction – it exists in both states simultaneously. Artmoney eludes easy categorization because it occupies different spheres of exchange; it can exist as a form of commodity money with its own intrinsic value, provide a means of facilitating commodity exchange, constitute a gift (much artmoney tends to be given away as personal presents), and an art object that has a critical and aesthetic value in a non-monetary scheme; and in this latter respect artmoney can often enhance, rather than detract from, impersonal exchange. Equally uncertain is the extent to which artmoney offers a confirmation or repudiation of the depersonalizing power of conventional money – since it can serve to both dismantle and enhance the barriers between individuals. Think about it: faced with an artist offering you art money to pay for his dinner, how would you react?



[1] Artmoney increases in value by 5 Euro per year for 7 years, with the increase in value being redeemable only when purchasing art from artmoney artists. When spending artmoney in other places, each piece retains its original value, regardless of the year of production – inflation being accounted for by periodic revaluations (when launched each piece was worth 100 Kroner).

[2] http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0264275112000893

Acknowledgements

While all images are copyright free, please visit Artmoney if you are interested in supporting the project.

 

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