Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego: Exhibition Text
MCASD’s Cerca Series presents new and existing artwork that confronts issues of the
Southern California and Baja California regions. The series features solo exhibitions by
emerging artists and experimental projects by established artists, providing a forum for
artistic investigation and production in the context of the U.S.- Mexico border.
Peter Simensky investigates the mechanisms by which value is assigned, traded, stored,
and displayed. For Cerca Series, the New York-based artist presents sculptural installations,
two - dimensional collages, prints, fabric pieces and a video installation made while in
residency in the Southern California and Baja California region. His varied, process-
oriented practice demonstrates an overarching interest in the art object as trigger and
emblem of forms of exchange.
These exchanges take multiple of approaches. Some are articulated by the production and
circulation of hand-collaged bills representative of the exchange of formal qualities in a work
of art for literal economic value within the art market. Others focus on sculptural display
objects that result from participation and trade within a specific social network. Still others
result in abstract pieces that utilize icons of national identity, such as flags and money, to
appropriate and recycle their iconography, negating their original symbolism and
exchanging it for the gesture of cultural sampling. And finally, a video narrative - created in
Los Angeles, Joshua Tree Park, and Tijuana - threads together the pursuit of fortune,
gambling, and the transformation of popular objects into desirable commodities.
In 2005 Simensky began a project under the umbrella title Neutral Capital. Sampling from
bills of countries with unstable economies, he created a set of hand-collaged one-sided bills
entitled NC 100. These artworks were later printed on paper-money stock as two-sided bills
and placed in 6 limited edition aluminum attaché cases, each containing 2000 NC 100 bills.
With the support of the Swiss Institute of Contemporary Art (New York), 3 of these cases
were sold to collectors at the 2005 Armory Show and then used to trade with galleries and
artists to purchase artwork.
Neutral Capital inserted itself into the economy of the art fair as a performative,
participatory piece in which diverse actors within the art world were as important as the
commodity on sale - the sculptural art object titled Neutral Capital (NC 100 Case Edition).
The agreement between Simensky, collectors, dealers and, later, artists, to partake in a
process of evaluation and resale was fundamental to the initial positioning of Neutral
Capital as a legitimate trade currency. At the 2005 Armory, the last selling price of 2000 NC
100 bills established an exchange rate of 50 Neutral Capital for 1 US Dollar. By this
operation, Neutral Capital became a form of fiat money - a term that indicates that the
value of a currency is determined on faith and on people’s apprehension of the strength of a
country’s economy. The US Dollar, as are most world currencies, is fiat money evaluated by
perception and vulnerable to speculation.
The project critiques and participates in the current inflated art market. It relied initially on
the discernment of collectors who, by buying and then trading the currency, at once
assigned it a market value and expanded their collection. The currency now serves as money
for the purchase of artworks by a growing roster of international artists who, based on trust
and speculation, have traded with Simensky their art for his currency. These pieces are
housed in movable galleries-in-a-box, the Neutral Capital Collection I and II, that are
display modules and also time-capsules of both a moment of artistic production and of the
links and connections of a network of artists who willingly give an equivalent value to their
own work in relation to Neutral Capital.
The Neutral Capital Collection I and II are poised between recent explorations in forms of
art as collaborative and dialogical procedures defined by duration, and forms that focus on
the object and its physical qualities independent of social relationships. In its articulation of
art through personal dynamics and dialogue, his project recalls relational aesthetic
strategies, a term coined by theorist and curator Nicolas Bourriaud in 1997 to describe
artwork whose means and subject are the “relations” in a social network, and audience
reception and participation. Yet, Simensky rejects the label of “relational artist,” which he
sees as reductive precisely because it overlooks the critical potential of the artwork as object.
While the content of the Neutral Capital Collections results and documents personal bonds
with other artists, who can be said to have an equal status to the artists and among each
other, Simensky ultimately positions himself as artist/curator defining the reading of the
Simensky’s work brings together several value systems, only one of which are social
relations. He emphasizes exchange, trade, and accumulation of goods, while also
investigating how formalized, well-recognized artistic idioms such as Pop, Modernism,
Minimalism, and even documentary and narrative film languages are attached to cultural
investment. His quotation of Pop imagery and means of production, and deployment of a
Minimalist display sensibility, is done in the same spirit of freewheeling appropriation as
his more evident reformulation, through recycling and duplication, of the pre-existing
iconography of national currencies and United Nations member state’s flags. For example,
the original Neutral Capital hand-collages are amalgamations of cut-outs from international
currencies. Owing as much to Surrealist collage as to money imagery, each Neutral Capital
bill presents a layered composition that scrambles the implicit narratives represented in the
highly detailed engravings created for national currencies. A politics of nationalist identity
is embedded in the intricate hero portraits and historical vignettes etched into money. The
Neutral Capital bills’ imagery presents a parody of those narratives: visionaries,
revolutionaries, lovers and fighters who, crafted from the body parts of exotic historical
figures, refer not to myths of origin but to the “neutralization,” as the title of the project
indicates, of those sources.
For Simensky, the Neutral Capital currency and Neutral Capital Collections parallel the
banking industry’s practices of currency rating, economic speculation, and investment
through art collecting and display. He is, in other words, interested in revealing, through
participation and literal reproduction, the mechanics of the system of valuation. His use of
currency as art object is, therefore, different from that of Any Warhol who is the closest
precedent to Simensky’s project not only in his ready understanding of the art = money
equation, but also in visualization of this equation. This is especially evident in the Went
Corporate Series of digital prints that follow similar composition and production methods
as Warhol’s 192 One Dollar Bills (1962). Both works consist of neat columns of printed bills
on a canvas or paper surface. The difference is that Warhol’s 192 One Dollar Bills simply
presents the currency as objects, no different from Coca Cola bottles or Campbell’s Soup
Cans. Simensky goes one step further. His own NC 202 bills function as support surface
overlaid with photographic details of large scale public sculptures by Modernist and
Contemporary masters Alexander Calder, Jean Dubuffet, Keith Haring, among others,
placed in plazas and atriums outside important banking and investment institutions in
Manhattan. American Pop of the post-World War II period is notable equally for its
conceptual reframing of the visible signifiers of capitalist consumerism, as it is for the
absence of a critical stance towards the social context engendering the work. Simensky
utilizes Pop strategies of appropriation of consumer objects - money and public sculpture -
but refers to extra-aesthetics systems of capital accumulation and public relations—the
economic context of the art commodity.
In this sense, Neutral Capital is closer to Cildo Meireles Money Tree (1969), which
consisted, as its accompanying text indicates, of “a bundle of cruzeiro bills bounded by a
rubber band that was placed on a conventional sculptural base.” As Raul Zamudio has
written, Money Tree “expands its critical purview…into the web of international geopolitics
in addressing national and international systems of finance and their philanthropic forays
and the privatization of culture.” Like Neutral Capital, Mierele’s piece shifts between
different contextual registers, becoming enmeshed in them to the point of auto-valuation.
Both, Money Tree and Neutral Capital ultimately acquire commodity status through the
systems they interrogate. Situated in these moments of slippage and interchange,
Simensky’s projects evidence the volatility of art objects which are, on one level, cash with
which to trade and invest, and on the other, art—the mysterious objectification of reflection,
imagination, desire, and promise.
Lucía Sanromán, Assistant Curator
Peter Simensky has had solo projects with the Swiss Institute of Contemporary Art, NYC
(2005) and Project Row Houses, Houston (2005). He has participated in numerous group
shows including Grow Your Own, Palais de Tokyo, Paris (2007), It's Not What You Know,
It's Who You Know, Samson Projects, Boston (2006), Sport, Socrates Sculpture Park, NYC
(2005), We Could Have Invited Everyone, Andrew Kreps Gallery, NYC (2005), and New
Labor, Columbia University’s Robert Neiman Gallery, NYC (2005).
This exhibition is curated by MCASD Assistant Curator, Lucía Sanromán.
Cerca Series: Peter Simensky is made possible by members of MCASD’s Corporate Council.
Programs at MCASD Downtown are made possible, in part, by grants from The James
Irvine Foundation and The Institute of Museum and Library Services (an independent
Federal grant-making agency dedicated to creating and sustaining a nation of learners).