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

works displayed.

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).

Nicolas Bourriaud, Relational Aesthetics, trans. Simon Pleasance, Fronza Woods, and Mathieu Copeland (Dijon : Les

Presses du réel, 2002).The lifting of regulatory restrictions on cross-border banking and the explosion of financial

globalization over the last two decades have created an environment where international investment firms and banks

like UBS and Deutsche Bank publicize their worldwide reach by expanding and displaying their collections in the

world’s top museums. Raul Zamudio, “Knowing Can Be Destroying,” (