January 16, 2015

“The Artist as Debtor: The Work of Artists in the Age of Speculative Capitalism”

The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art
Noah Fischer, Artist as Debtor, 2015. Digitally manipulated photograph,
16 x 20 inches.

We live in an era of unprecedented profits from contemporary art sales and massive debts incurred by art students. Are these phenomena related? Is it a coincidence that in an age in which art can be made from nothing, the price attached to an art degree is staggeringly high? Contemporary art institutions amass great wealth through real estate development and the value of their holdings—why then do museums, art-related businesses, and art schools rely so heavily on precarious and unpaid labor provided by artists? Has the economic structure of art schools always mirrored that of the commercial art world? What are the connections between big money in the art world and the big debts taken on by so many young artists? Are artists encouraged to believe that extreme economic disparity is just part of the way the art world works? Do romantic ideas about merit and talent mask a system of indenture?

Artists Noah Fischer (member of Occupy Museums) and Coco Fusco will present a conference to discuss the art and the debt economy on January 23, at The Great Hall of Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art. This event will be hosted by the Cooper Union. Our featured speakers include artists Julieta Aranda, William Powhida, Martha Rosler, Gregory Sholette; writer Brian Kuan Wood; activists from W.A.G.E. and BFAMFAPHD, and cultural theorist Andrew Ross. Their presentations will spark dialogue with the audience about a state of affairs that has relegated so many young artists to a condition of precarity.

We hope to engage students, art workers, and all those interested in art’s future in an extended reflection about ways that the art economy extracts financial benefits from artists who may not even be selling their art. We envision this as an opportunity for a growing movement to counter economic inequality in the arts, to gain strength from collective wisdom, and to develop better strategies for responding to situations that make many artists feel powerless.

For more information, please contact [email protected] and [email protected].

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For more information on the Debt Fair, please click here.


"The Artist as Debtor" at Cooper Union

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