«Much has been said and written about the economic circulation of capital between the cultural and monetary sectors, but it is a rare thing for that question to be addressed in painting itself. Per Hess’ exhibition “White is the New Black” consists of paintings in ultra pale pastel tones, in some cases so close to white that the color can seem just too weak, until suddenly it jumps out at you again through the layers of lacquer. The visual impression of the exhibition as a whole is highly suggestive of both op and pop art, and links in to the exhibition’s central theme – money – by playing on the illusory. The purity of style and the minimalist approach, which hark back to the legacy of monochrome painting, stand in contrast to the momentous and dramatic theme of money. Most of us find it incomprehensible that our expectations of what we can achieve in life depend on abstract economic conditions that can be represented as graphs.
Any visualization of such ubiquitous forces will of course be inadequate, and we are brought closer to the seemingly divine aspect of a major currency, not by prohibiting its representation, but at least by treating it as something linked to morality. One question we are prompted to ask is: Are Hess’ paintings an evasive maneuver? The playful ease with which he handles the theme, more suggestive of comedy than tragedy, is accompanied throughout by a punning use of words. For example, he combines the symbols for the major currencies on a coin, where they spell the polytheistic figure $€€, an affirmative and revelatory celebration of money’s convertibility into anything whatsoever, a way of looking at the world – including the art object itself.
Implicit in these objects is a gulf between the painting as something we get close to and sense with the entire body, and the painting as something that can acquire such immense monetary value that it leaves us feeling totally estranged from it. How do we reconcile these qualities in one and the same object?
Here again, our senses can be unreliable guides. In one of his paintings, Hess makes use of a pop-art-inspired pointillist grid from an enlarged halftone image of an original signature that could be read as either “Money” or “Monet.” The signature is like the symbol for a real currency with a guaranteed exchange value, but which also serves as the sign that validates an individual style. Hess subtly shows how a signature can be an ambiguous entity that might refer only to the underlying universal language that serves as intermediary – money.
The exhibition forces us to reflect on money and its relationship to art, as something that has both real value and exchange value, on transactions in relation to cultural capital, but also on money as a fragile and unstable phenomenon. The illusory nature of monetary value is underlined and linked to reflections on art in ¥€$, in which the title word appears essentially as an after-image – an inscription in white on a pink background so pale that it too is almost white. To the left and the right of this positive exclamation are two dollar figures representing the highest prices paid for paintings by Daniel Buren in 2006 and 2010. The artist is raising questions about art as an investment, and how markets collectively decide to back artists who are still waiting to receive the art historians’ seal of approval.
Although “White is the New Black” is a self-assured statement on the theme of money and art, it would have been even more forceful if it had confronted the dichotomy between the black and white economies more directly. On the other hand the paintings declame that art has a clean value not to be threathened.»
From the Art critics of Marius Meli. Written to the exhibition «White is the new black».