Exchange at The Artist’s Supermarket

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  • Exchange at the Artist’s Supermarket

    On a recent visit to Marfa, Texas, I took a tour of Donald Judd’s home and his studio- a former supermarket. Among the carefully arranged objects on long wooden tables lay a rounded, seemingly random collection of change: 3 quarters, one dime, 3 nickels and 3 pennies: $1.03 .

    While the other objects in the room were clearly the property of the person and studio, what about this small grouping of coins? Who do they really belong to? The answer of course, is the US government. While the value the coins hold belongs to the person who (temporarily) holds the coins, the objects themselves in effect, do not. In fact, we are all in the practice of exchanging coins and bills with each other every day. Isn’t it this exchange of goods and services for capital that drives an economy?

    But on the subject of economy- we must establish which parameters we are working with- what is the course we are playing, what are the limits to the playing field. For in fact, many economies exist beyond the standard one of cash, goods and services. For instance, if an economy is the transaction of value between two groups, then it would appear to me at least that trees producing oxygen and humans producing carbon dioxide represents an economy. Things of beauty created by people and other beings, and the people and other beings that see that beauty- perhaps that too is an economy. Both of these examples represent economies that can be seriously compromised by more aggressive forces operating to stimulate “the economy”. When a land developer clears out artists and trees to build condominiums and shopping areas to “stimulate the economy”, it would at least be honest if they referred to which economy they were stimulating and which ones they were destroying.
    A simple stroll through Oakland’s Jack London Square with its empty storefronts and monolithic construction in baby blue stucco reveals the developer’s true destructive power. Do you shop there?

    But let’s get back to Donald Judd’s desk and the change lying upon it. Well, not quite yet. In fact, any capital system can only be as effective as its ability to capture the value of the things in exchange. For instance, an economy that can’t value the labor produced by a worker more than an otherwise insignificant object (such as a coin) owned by a celebrity surely is ineffective. I see it operating more on principles that drive religion than those of a rational society. Aura or mystical qualities, when valued highly by a society is a sign of a society resigned to not knowing. Thank god there are still signs that people believe in magic. It sure props up the art market.

    Now I want to contextualize this writing. In my pocket sits a quarter. On a recent visit to Marfa Texas, I took a tour of Donald Judd’s home and his studio- a former supermarket. Among the carefully arranged objects on long wooden tables lay a rounded, seemingly random collection of change: 3 quarters, one dime, 3 nickels and 3 pennies: $1.03. One of the quarters that now lay on that table, while being identical, is different than before my visit. In my pocket sits a quarter, dated 1991.

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