Lehman Brothers: Artwork & Ephemera

March 25, 2013 § Leave a comment

Lehman Brothers Auction at Christies, London, August 2010 (photograph by Linda Nylind/Guardian Newspapers)

Lehman Brothers Auction at Christies, London, August 2010 (photograph by Linda Nylind/Guardian Newspapers)

Christie’s announce the auction of Lehman Brothers: Artwork and Ephemera which will take place at South Kensington on 29 September 2010 offering artworks and selected items of interest which once adorned the walls and offices of the British and European arms of the former banking powerhouse Lehman Brothers.

From the press release published in August 2010, under the direction of the administrators of the broke investment bank, once the fourth largest in the world, artefacts including the sign which had adorned the entrance to their offices in London’s Canary Wharf (image above) and also the contents of the art collection which included works by Gary Hume, Lucien Freud and the photograph, New York Mercantile Exchange 1991, by Andreas Gursky, were to be auctioned at market.

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New York Mercantile Exchange 1991 by Andreas Gursky

The timing of the auction was also significant, coinciding with the second anniversary of when the company went into administration. Citing the experience of the dismantlement of Enron, one of the administrators observes:

The brothers Lehman collected artwork which adorned their offices since the 19th century. Over the subsequent years, of course, as the business expanded and the leadership changed, so did their corporate taste in art. We are excited to be working with Christies to offer the art collection owned by the companies in Administration. The auction date was selected to approximately coincide with the second anniversary of the Administrations. We think that there are many people around the world who would like to acquire some art with a Lehman connection, and we have therefore timed the sale to ensure that potential buyers can view and bid efficiently online. As with the Enron auction, some seven years ago, when we had bids from 43 countries, we expect internet bidding to be fast and furious – having the capacity to cope with a large volume of global bidding was one of the key reasons why we chose Christie’s.

Recognised as one of the central pillars of the global market and subsequent architects of the global economic collapse, and mindful of the Gursky image, Lehman Brothers would appear to have been returned to the simultaneous site of its making and undoing.

Out Of The Pits: A Gursky Photograph and How to Represent Capital

December 20, 2012 § 2 Comments

Chicago Board of Trade II (1999) by Andreas Gursky

Chicago Board of Trade II (1999) by Andreas Gursky

A photograph of a frantic trading pit on an epic scale is installed on a gallery wall, its origins are the largest and oldest commodity exchange in the world. The photograph is titled Chicago Board of Trade II (1999) by German-born photographer, Andreas Gursky. Traversing the globe, Gursky makes images that reflect upon the human condition, as he sees it, manifest in urban, rural, cultural and industrial spaces. Although a former student of Bernd Becher (who worked professionally as an artist with his wife, Hilla Becher) at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf (Düsseldorf Art Academy), Gursky has not completely subscribed to the dogma of strict objectivity, having always cropped and manipulated negatives when necessary and more recently, incorporated digital manipulation into his practice.

The Chicago Board of Trade is an exemplary site of modernity…in this location, everyday relationships to the potential of money and the necessity of trade become extreme. Financial professionals bring together flow, speed and technology in the pursuit of profits, and when thousands of them gather everyday, they help create something larger – the market.

Installed in a central passageway of London’s Tate Modern, the cultural anthropologist, Caitlin Zaloom, first encountered the image while in the city as part of her long-term ethnographic research on traders. The words quoted above form part of her response to the abstraction of capital that the image invokes, she continues:

a clear message about the velocity of money and its disordering effects in the global economy. The market takes in vast waves of capital and spews them out again in a logic all of its own. Yet the for the crowd of spectators around the photogaph, the commotion and dissarray are entrancing. It is unsettling to examine the picture closely, especially because a literal understanding of the physical space, or of the traders’ labor, is impossible. Instead it is easier to step back from the photograph and absorb the overall impression of the global financial beehive (2010: 2).

Her encounter with Gursky’s photograph forms the introduction to her book, Out of the Pits: Traders and Technology from Chicago to London (2010) and pivotally defines her methodological approach. While, understanding the functioning of such an aesthetic, Zaloom advocates as a priority to move beyond the abstraction of capital, as visually embodied in Gursky’s photograph – a function capital embraces also in the context of technological evolution regarding the labour  of the traders themselves and their possible future abstraction – and a necessity, therefore, to look closer and in great detail at the apparatus of the global market:

Markets are objects of inquiry into the culture and economy of contemporary capitalism…today, the world’s powerful financial centers are the ones that need explanation. The mysteries of markets touch our lives, but few outside the financial profession understand them (2010: 11).

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