The Value of Artistic Labor

October 26, 2018


Livia Alexander

Livia Alexander is a curator, writer, and Chair of the Department of Art and Design at Montclair State University. Her work is focused on examining the relationship between art infrastructure and artistic production, urbanity, cultural politics of food and art, and contemporary art from the Middle East and Southeast Asia. She has curated and produced numerous art and film programs, exhibitions and events, showcased at the MoMA New York, Tate Modern, Sharjah Art Foundation, Queens Museum, The Film Society of Lincoln Center, Cinematheque Tangier, and many more. Alexander is co-producer of the research-based interactive documentary, Jerusalem, We Are Here (Canada/Palestine/Israel, 2016), directed by Dorit Naaman. Her award- winning scholarly writing has appeared in the Journal of Visual Anthropology, Framework, MERIP, and as book chapters and catalog essays. She regularly contributes to Hyeprallergic and Harpers Bazaar Art Arabia and founded the online publication ArteEast Quarterly. She is the editor of a year-long series commissioned by the online platform with Residency Unlimited, centered on artist residencies at the nexus of urban placemaking and social practice.

This is the fourth in a series of roundtables curated by Residency Unlimited. In this issue respondents were given this prompt:

Artists are increasingly being recognized not only in the aesthetic realm, but for their capacity to present solutions to everyday questions. Is this altering the value (monetary and/or social) of artistic labor?

To read past roundtables convened by Residency Unlimited, visit our Roundtables page.


Jane Philbrick

Art Site: World

Two “indurated” social habits preoccupy me as an artist: the stubborn global tolerance of our escalating ecological crisis, and global tourism’s bucket list of destination art museums. This remarkably tension-free paradox of insufficient seeing and surplus looking, however, is nothing new.

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Jianru Wu

What Class Does the Artist Belong To?

Beijing’s 798 Art Zone developed over more than a decade as an ecosystem of galleries, artist studios, fabrication studios, insurance agents, and shipping companies. But the large-scale government cleanup of the “low-end population” (diduan renkou) that began at the end of 2017 has changed the conditions that allowed it to thrive.

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Sara Reisman

Too Embedded? Between Object and Experience

Artistic labor has no fixed value. The term “artistic labor” implies a distinction from the art object, which, within the art market, has potential value as a commodity. This potential is key in understanding how transient the value of art is.

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Livia Alexander

The Promise of Artistic Labor

How do we determine the value of artistic labor? All artists can share stories of repeatedly being asked or expected to produce and exhibit their work for free, curators having to put on shows with little to no funding, and so on. We are also all familiar with headline-grabbing news of sticker-shock prominent art pieces selling for astronomical prices, with a wide spectrum of art falling between these two extremes.

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Lawrence Lemaoana

How to Grab a Slippery Fish with Both Hands

The tools to measure the impact of strategies and tactics that artists employ to intervene meaningfully and sustainably in everyday life have not yet been fully realized. Nevertheless, these methods and processes can often be buoyed, inflated, and repurposed as a means to measure an artist’s success. During the process of making, the ideas that stimulate the production of work may end up with outcomes divergent from the initial intention; the means with which artworks are read and consumed by society may stray very far from its intended meaning.

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Tiago de Abreu Pinto

readymades belong to everyone®

For a while now, laboring has been used as an anchor for artists to develop their practice. Piero Manzoni used his body as a factory of readymades, selling his breath, his fingerprints, and his excrement. Warhol became a distinctive sign of industrial culture; he too a factory in himself. But, in Warhol’s case, it was through repetition that responded to market demands that culminated in the creation of the Factory, this theater-like headquarters that resembled a “19th century manufactory” in which he could achieve his purposes. In the case of French artist Philippe Thomas, the purpose was achieved through others, by ghost laboring.

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Tayeba Begum Lipi

Britto Arts Trust

I would like to share a story from my own experience as a visual arts practitioner in Bangladesh. My best friend, partner, and collaborator Mahbubur Rahman and I started organizing workshops and exhibitions for a group of like-minded contemporaries in the early ‘90s, putting in hard labor while gathering new experiences at home and abroad. Running exhibitions and workshops made us consider creating a permanent physical platform for art in Dhaka. In order to explore different models, we embarked on a six-month-long journey through England, Ireland, Germany, and Finland from December 1999 to June 2000.

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