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by Ronald Kolb, Dorothee Richter, Shwetal Patel

Editorial: Speculations: Funding and Financing Non-Profit Art


This issue of OnCurating aims to shed light on the complex and often-times concealed economic basis of art production and exhibition-making. The contributions cover a range of issues from a highly speculative financial model of the art market, public funding mechanisms, and attempts of building alternative economic systems.

The compilation of texts are to be read in the context of two key problems related to arts funding. Firstly, the art market’s speculative value creation favours singular artistic production of reification/objectification emphasises the funding of singular artists, and reaffirms its own hegemonic structure in the light of an economic system of speculation that commodifies with the help of (public) funding bodies and the arts field at large. This form of art patronage does not necessarily need an interested public, and cynically can prosper in countries with big income gaps.

Secondly, between the state-based public funding paradigms and their complicity or resistance to the reproduction of unequal relations and perpetuation of (neo-)colonial dichotomies through a  centre-periphery model. In a post-Marxist reading, the centre-periphery dynamic is not just a historical (colonial, geopolitical) situation within nation states (urban-rural) or between "the West and the rest", but makes it clear that an unequal and exploitative relationship is created and maintained between the so-called underdeveloped countries and the rich states, where the elites of these nation states are also involved. At least in part, this also maintains the dependence on rich states and supports a globalised and accelerated financial capitalism in order to keep the dominant classes at the centre. 

A possible countermovement seems to be gaining a certain economic independence through other, commonly shared financing models, and to enter an economy of sharing. What could the phrase “No commons without commoning” mean for the “freedom” of art and its relative autonomy? What kind of new dependencies does it create?

This issue came into being alongside the conference in June 2022 “Speculations on Funding”, generously supported by ifa (Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen) at CAMP Notes on Education, documenta Fifteen in Kassel, Germany. The aim of the conference convened with keynote inputs and contributions by Laura Alexander & Myriam Vandenbroucke (Prince Claus Fund), Syafiatudina Saja, farid rakun (ruangrupa), Antonio Cataldo, Isabelle Graw, Meron Mendel and Joshua Decter, to contribute to future funding policy frameworks, systems and approaches that are responsive to the complexity of a globally entangled art world. Whilst researching the topic in the aftermath of the conference in the context of documenta 15, we wanted to expand the viewpoints and invite a variety of perspectives to the debates that are raging in the field. Some contributions encompass theoretical explorations of the financial system of the art field, whilst many undertake a critique from a specific perspective, and others build a bridge directly to exhibition making by thematising the financial system itself.


The interview with Poppy Bowers, Kathrin Böhm & Kuba Szreder (Centre for Plausible Economies), and Alistair Hudson about the exhibition “Economics the Blockbuster” explicates how economic questions can not only be at the core of art production, but also became a  topic for an exhibition itself. We discuss the group exhibition “that demonstrates art as real-world economic systems”.

In “From Speculation to Infrastructure: Material and Method in the Politics of Contemporary Art” theorist Marina Vishmidt explores conditions of possibility, from formal, social, economic, historical and ontological perspectives, also its composition along the vectors of objective and subjective determination by race, class, gender and relation to the law.

Professor of Art and Economics at the University of Kassel / documenta Institut Mi You explores the social value of art in relation to new and historical materialism in ​​’Another Currency, Another Speculation: Reflections on Art and Economies Projects at documenta fifteen’.

Bassam El Baroni explains ‘cognitive provisionality’ in ‘Whither the Exhibition in the Age of Finance? Notes towards a Curatorial Practice of Leveraging’ in which he references the premodern world of irrational reckoning and risk taking, origins that he argues we can still discern in the world today.

The interview with Nieuwe Instituut’s Aric Chen, Jan Jongert from Superuse and artist Carlijn Kingma, sheds light on the Dutch Pavilion exhibition at the Venice Architecture Biennale 2023, titled “Plumbing the System”. The project “represents the complex financial and regulatory systems that shape society” in Kingma’s art works, and at the same time tries to implement ecological sustainable structures for the Dutch Pavilion, Venice Biennial, and the city of Venice.

Isabelle Graw analyses current tendencies toward ‘resortization’ in various segments of the art world in ‘WELCOME TO THE RESORT: Six Theses on the Latest Structural Transformation of the Artistic Field and Its Consequences for Value Formation’.

Tanya Abraham outlines challenges in funding for the arts in India, in particular her home state of Kerala where the Kochi-Muziris Biennale takes place. Her contribution “Rethinking Funding for the Arts in India” examines social conditions around contemporary art and its growing popularisation in India.

Delphine Buysse examines current and past cultural policy doctrines during independence movements in various African countries in ‘Crossing Intersecting Trajectories and Funding Paradigm Shifts in the Cultural Sector: A  Perspective from Dakar’.

Elif Carrier exposes interconnected trends in ‘Overpriced, Under-represented, Gate Guarded; The Last Ten Years of the Art Market’ which examines the commercialisation, globalisation and financialisation of art, forming new regimes of value in the art market.

Laura Alexander and Myriam Vandenbroucke propose more nuanced approaches to both the day-to-day and the long-term strategic work of funders in the arts, in their contribution ‘Forces of Art: Monitoring and Evaluation as a Situated Knowledge-Making Practice’.

Antonio Cataldo interweaves personal storytelling into formal essays for his contribution ‘What Is Autonomy, and for Whom Is Autonomy?’, partly inspired by his grandparents who found freedom through immense struggle and in the context of specific economic underpinnings.

Interview: Renzo Martens speaks to Shwetal A. Patel about his work in Africa, interest in community-based practices, particularly in Lusanga, Congo, and his concept of the white cube in relation to colonial restitution policies.

Shwetal A. Patel shares an extract from his doctoral research, in particular Winchester School of Art’s week-long residency at Tate Exchange at Tate Modern museum in 2018. The residency included a one-day conference and workshop for the creation of a new guide ‘How to Biennale! (The Manual)’, which proposes a new set of critical tools for the field.

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Issue 58

Speculations: Funding and Financing Non-Profit Art

by Ronald Kolb, Dorothee Richter, Shwetal Patel