A MODEST PROPOSAL (in a Black Box)

Vermeir & Heiremans

In his book The Long Twentieth Century, Giovanni Arrighi describes recurring cycles of development in the history of capitalism. His analysis shows how, since the Renaissance, falling rates of profit have triggered shifts from the initial cycle of trade and production to a secondary cycle of financialization.[1] In this secondary cycle, instead of investing surplus capital in more trade and production, most of it is invested in ways in which capital can reproduce itself – through financial intermediation and speculation, as well as in real estate and art, or other luxury goods!

After the 1960's had initiated the abstraction of the built environment into global financial products, it didn't take very long before art caught the attention of the financial world. Today, sophisticated financial techniques are being scrutinized to be applied to the field of art, which means that financial derivatives on art might soon allow traders to buy/sell 'art' without actually having to occupy themselves with the material artwork.

Of course not all art enjoys the attention and investments of surplus capital. Value is created for the upper layers of the art market, the so-called blue-chip art, but it is a regime of free labor and (self)exploitation in the art world, or what Gregory Sholette has labeled its (invisible) dark matter[2], that keeps the global cultural sector going.

In their most recent research and following up on their ART HOUSE INDEX (AHI–), Vermeir & Heiremans are investigating the possibilities for repurposing a number of financial tools that are currently being developed for contemporary art assets. The artists formulate A Modest Proposal (in a Black Box) in opposition to the current dynamic in this niche of the financial markets. Since in none of these financial constructions there seems to be any impetus to include other parties but the investor's, the artists see an urgency to look into new financial products that are inclusive [3], meaning that directly benefit f.e. the artist/producer, not only the investor/rentier.

The artists' proposal will be about developing a model that can assist museum administrators in maximizing a return on investment on their collections and/or museum real estate. A Modest Proposal will investigate how current modes of financialization can be redirected towards a more sustainable model.

After formulating their intuitive ideas on the issue, Vermeir & Heiremans started investigating in which direction an 'inclusive' financial model should actually be oriented. Unresolved issues of taxation and governing kept sparking discussions: should the return on investment (ROI) on public art collections or museum real estate be reinvested in the institutions for art and its producers, in line with the museum's goals and tasks? Or should a parliamentary debate attribute these resources...

It became inevitable that A Modest Proposal would generate some challenging questions on critical practices, and on art's place, including that of the museum, in society at large, questions that might allow to map out some of the concerns on financialization as a key notion in the quest for a more sustainable society.



1 Giovanni Arrighi, The Long Twentieth Century (London – New York, Verso, 2010)
2 Gregory Sholette, Dark Matter (London, Pluto Press UK, 2009).
3 A Modest Proposal builds on a work by Robert Morris, Money (1969-1973). Morris proposed the Whitney museum to acquire $100.000 by obtaining a loan using its real estate and art collection as collateral. The museum was to invest the money in the stock market for the duration of the show and eventually the profit would have been divided between the artist and the museum. Money is one of the first instances of 'financialization' of art, although the proposal was never accepted in its original form.


For a French version, please click here



A MODEST PROPOSAL (in a Black Box)
Vermeir & Heiremans
Pump House Gallery, London
3 October – 16 December 2018
Curated by Ned McConnell


Saturday 27 October, time to be confirmed
Royal College of Art, Lydia and Manfred Gorvy Lecture Theatre

A Modest Proposal aims to benefit artists and art workers, but its implementation raises some fundamental questions: can values originating from public goods be claimed for the benefit of specific stakeholders, or should the funds be redistributed through a political process? Can these values be reinvested in the institutions for art and its producers, in line with the museum's goals and tasks? Or should a parliamentary debate attribute these resources, making them available for healthcare, education or even military expenses etc.


Supported by Wandsworth Council, Arts Council England, Cockayne – Grants for the Arts and The London Community Foundation.
Produced by Jubilee with the support of the Flemish Community and A/R asbl