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The Trouble with Value

Onomatopee 151

Following its first chapter at Bunkier Sztuki, Gallery of Contemporary Art, Krakow, Poland The Trouble with Value arrives with a second iteration to Onomatopee. Curated by Kris Dittel (Onomatopee) and Krzysztof Siatka (Bunkier Sztuki).

The Trouble with Value discusses the tangled story of the symbolic and economic value that a work of art holds, being a product of its maker’s labour; with an attempt to provide insights into current notions of value and value systems surrounding us.

With the participation of: Benera and Estefan, Rachel Carey, gerlach en koop, Fokus Grupa, Karolina Grzywnowicz, Monique Hendriksen, Arnoud Holleman and Gert Jan Kocken, Kornel Janczy, Adrian Paci, Feliks Szyszko, Timm Ulrichs.


Any artwork is subject to a web of assessments, expressed from the perspective of experts and audiences. Among those actors in this judgmental spectacle are curators, critics, art historians, philosophers, art dealers, and of course the public too. Institutions and the machinery of the art market complete this disposition.

Aside from the monetary evaluation of artworks and their unregulated market, the criteria for an artwork’s quality and its merit remain rather vague. Despite this fact the contemporary art world is persistently fixated on the “value” of art: wanting to recognize what is “new” and “original”, “relevant”, “challenging” or “radical”. Yet, is it possible to truly recognize what makes a work of art “outstanding” or “contemporary”, those qualities which are telling of their time while also carrying universal modes of understanding?

The whole is made from a not-quite-transparent set of determinants that are difficult to break down. As usual, it is much easier to reflect on the past, for a look back provides examples of views and ideologies that defined – perhaps in a rather simple way – values and “qualities” of artistic creations. This is how the development of the canon of art has reached a condition where, despite continual redefinition and deconstruction, its rate of change is tardy at best. Well, don’t we all like tunes we already know?

Since the arrival of the avant-garde movement art has taken a progressive and experimental position, one which breaks away from tradition and introduces new ideas that sometimes do not receive appreciation and understanding during the era of their creation. According to many of its critics, the socially engaged ideals of the early avant-garde slowly faded into an elitist project in which only a continuous chase of “new and radical” impulses remained. Other critics consider contemporary art to be little more than an exceptional asset, a neutralized commodity that refrains from institutional criticism or engagement with the politico-economic realities of our time.

Today, when the methods of branding, marketing and aura-creation are the prevailing means for valuation the good-old invisible hand of the economy, matching demand and supply, is at rest.  The booming contemporary art market behaves similarly: without a set of market rules, it operates on the basis of an empathically fetishized commodity. Is art capable of escaping (and should it) a commodity fetishism that relies on the apparent autonomy of an artwork and its aura? How can we devise other strategies to value art?

The Trouble with Value aims to locate and extract practices that bring us closer to understanding the potential of art to represent different notions of value in the contemporary. How can we counter the certain apathy of the contemporary to engage with positions that resist this mood and present us with challenging perspectives on value? The project attempts to locate artistic and institutional practices that offer viewpoints beyond the strategy of blending-in and conforming to the rules.

In the light of the above, an investigation into the sources of an artwork’s value, the values it may create and the value systems it is subject to is an arduous, if not simply naïve task – for all methods, theories and ideologies fail. It is impossible to lay out the basic arguments in a singular, clear and precise manner but it is possible to distinguish several attitudes within the practices of contemporary artists as being notable for their reflections on the difficult process of cultivating value in a work of art.

One such aspect is the role of language in building narratives and providing a layer of immateriality to complete a work of art. We may also take into consideration the variety of modes artists (de-)value and disseminate their artworks. The infrastructure of art and the institution’s role in the circulation and presentation of art is certainly one we cannot disregard. Furthermore, we would like to consider iconoclasm as a mode of image and value creation along with matters of the canon of art in globalised society. Last but not least, we would like to acknowledge and problematize the question of artistic labour and its modes of valuation inside and outside of its institutions.

Download the exhibition guide HERE.


OPENING 21 April 2018 18:00
Exhibition continues: 22 April - 27 July 2018



Onomatopee 151, Kris Dittel, 2020

The Trouble with Value

Art and Its Modes of Valuation

€ 18

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This book discusses the symbolic and economic value that a work of art holds, being a product of its maker’s labour.

This dynamic compilation of theoretical texts, essays and artistic contributions provides insight into current notions of value and value systems, and considers everything from the role of language to the circulation of art, and how it’s aided by the infrastructure of institutions.

Along the way, The Trouble with Value tackles the historical legacies of devaluation in art, the value of artistic labour, and art’s capacity to tell stories beyond mainstream channels of dissemination.

Featuring contributions by Anca Benera and Arnold Estefan, Rachel Carey, Kris Dittel, Fokus Grupa, Fokus Grupa, Karolina Grzywnowicz, Arnoud Holleman and Gert Jan Kocken, Anthony Iles & Marina Vischmidt, gerlach en koop, Monique Hendriksen, Femke Herregraven, Kornel Janczy, Sława Harasymowicz, Sarah van Lamsweerde, Ewa Partum, Mladen Stilinović, Maciej Toporowicz, Kra Kra Intelligence Cooperative and more.

softcover including poster (370 x 275 mm)
190 x 285 mm / 7,48 x 11,22 inch
Kris Dittel
Anthony Iles and Marina Vishmidt,Krzysztof Siatka,
Agata Biskup
Anca Benera and Arnold Estefan, Rachel Carey, Fokus Grupa, Karolina Grzywnowicz, Arnoud Holleman and Gert Jan Kocken, gerlach en koop, Monique Hendriksen, Kornel Janczy, Sława Harasymowicz, Sarah van Lamsweerde, Ewa Partum, Mladen Stilinović, Maciej Toporowicz, Kra Kra Intelligence Cooperative
Release date
Swiss binding, sewn and glued
Munken Lynx 100 gr (inside), Munken Lunx 300 gr (cover) and poster (370 x 275 mm) on Arctic Volume Ivory 150
144 pages full color, 80 pages black/white
Drukarnią Skleniarz Włodzimierz Skleniarz, Krakow (PL)
Arial, Adobe Caslon Pro
Image specs
black/White: 80, Full color: 144
Clementine Edwards
Photography in the book
Peter Cox (exhibition in Onomatopee, Eindhoven), Studio FilmLove (exhibition in Bunkier Sztuki Gallery of Contemporary Art, Krakow)
Copy editor
Clementine Edwards
Made possible by
Mondriaan foundation, Cultuur Eindhoven
more specs