An excellent new visual arts show graphically exposes the world of high finance, says MIKE QUILLE
Show Me The Money
Northern Gallery For Contemporary Art, Sunderland
WHAT does “the market” look like? How can finance capitalism be expressed visually? How can what’s happening behind the flickering computer screens, the cacophonous trading halls and the secretive, voracious networks of pinstriped bankers be exposed and criticised by artists?
Show Me The Money tries to answer these challenging questions. It charts how the opaque world of high finance has been imagined and expressed in art over the last 300 years in Britain and the US though the media of paintings, prints, photographs, and videos.
All grapple to portray the obscure, clubby and deeply questionable — if not downright fraudulent — world of finance capitalism.
When the artist combines insight with skill and technique the results are brilliant as is the case with the 18th and early 19th-century cartoons of William Dent and James Gillray, sharp and funny satires on the financial policies of the governments of the day.
William Powhida’s Griftopia is an etch-a-sketch jumble of lines linking images of many of the architects of the neoliberal ascendancy in the US — bankers, regulators, libertarian ideologues, broadcasters and Treasury officials. It succeeds in conveying the fundamental chaos, confusion and crime at the heart of high finance and government networks.
In Mark Boulos’s All That Is Solid Melts Into Air, a film of traders shouting and gesticulating on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange is displayed opposite a film of fishermen in the Niger Delta who have taken up arms to oppose the oil companies’ exploitation of their country. This is, you sense, a kind of contemporary third world war in which young men are pitted against each other by capitalism.
Simon Roberts, an incisive and powerfully expressive artist, uses the surrealist tactic of juxtaposing found text, graphs and images to expose and undermine the contradictions and deceptions of the 2008 financial crisis in his Credit Crunch Lexicon.
And in a fine photograph, taken in the late autumn of 2011, Roberts shows a TV monitor with a reporter, almost hidden in a bank of screens on a trading station inside Lloyds Bank, reporting on the public-sector pensions strike.
Not all the artworks display such an intelligent approach and confident technique and one or two are whimsical or fail to get an intellectual purchase on this complex world. The book accompanying the exhibition is overpriced and disappointingly unfocused and does not clearly explain what actually happens in the financial sectors of modern capitalist economies.
Yet there is a lot of good art here and that’s unsurprising as the gallery’s curators have developed a solid reputation for commissioning and showing art which resonates locally and regionally.
Even so, more could be done to make the exhibition accessible to local people. They are the ones suffering most from the bail-out of the banks, and the oppressive austerity economics being applied to shore up the fortunes of the rich and powerful.
Those flickering screens, frenetic trading floors and pinstriped bankers have caused a lot of damage in places like Sunderland.
Free. Runs until August 30, opening times: (0191) 561-1235.