Based upon the theory of the same name developed by 18th century Swissmathematicians, cousins Nicolaus and Daniel Bernoulli, The St. Petersburg Paradoxinvites artists to consider notions of risk aversion, expected value, and gaming.An early experiment in the use of chance procedures as a means to suspend artisticagency, Jean Arp’s 1916 Collage géométrique is one in a series of collages drawn fromthe random composition of tossed pieces of paper. Eighty years later, DouglasGordon’s Bad Faith gambles with the very creation of a new artwork by betting itsentire production budget on the unlikely occurrence of snow on Christmas Day inStuttgart. Furthering this conflation of artwork and monetary value is a group of MarcelDuchamp’s Monte Carlo Bonds (1924-1938), a playful attempt at bankrupting theMonaco casino through a flimsy financial scheme. With Remnant Recomposition(2014), artist Cayetano Ferrer has created a site-specific installation composed ofdozens of different carpets specifically manufactured for casinos, where freneticvisual stimuli are designed to both obscure the wear and tear of 24-hour gamblingpalaces and to brighten up the cold mechanics of adverse probability.Tabor Robak’s new video, A* (2014), which was commissioned for this exhibition,channels the intensity of the gamer’s ups and downs, ricocheting between theeuphoria of an elusive win and resignation to inevitable loss. John Miller’s paintingLabyrinth 1 (1999) renders a zoomed-in frame from the perennially popular TV gameshow “The Price is Right” at the height of mass media’s ubiquity. Ericka Beckman’s filmYou the Better (1983), drawing upon the adversarial nature of team sports, animatesthe absurdity of blithely entering into a game that cannot be won. New works created by Alex Mackin Dolan, Kaspar Müller and Amalia Ulman engagewith the internet’s refraction of aspirational consumption. Elements of Dolan’spainting are culled from disparate images and memes born out of financial anxieties,while Ulman’s large digital prints of found postcards revel in the romanticization ofwhat American economist and sociologist Thorstein Veblen has described as“pecuniary canons of taste” (The Theory of the Leisure Class, 1899). Müller’s stack ofprints, entitled Tropic of Cancer (2014), exploits the rote vocabularies andunpredictable social dynamics of online peer-to-peer commerce, as the artist offersthe entire contents of his Berlin apartment for sale via a dedicated phone line(+4917690988107, 24/7). The Swiss Institute’s website will encourage bidding on adifferent item each day.Barbara Bloom’s 1992 artist book Never Odd or Even (whose title itself is apalindrome), along with four works from her eponymous series of butterfly cases,illustrates the possibility of the zero-sum game conjectured by the Bernoullis’ famousparadox. Sarah Ortmeyer’s new sculpture series, SANKT PETERSBURG PARADOX(2014) scatters a miscellany of chessboards across the main gallery, with game piecesreplaced by 109 eggs of various sizes and types in a precarious equilibrium. This senseof tension and an undercurrent of mortal jeopardy charges Giovanni Anselmo’s 1968untitled sculptural installation, in which a pair of 250-pound stones maintain live wiresin close proximity. This masterpiece of Arte Povera is an extreme testament to artists'enduring interest in relinquishing authorial power, sustained across historical avantgardesand guided to this day by what Georges Bataille calls, “ the giddy seductivenessof chance.”
Swiss Institute is grateful for additional support from Dvir Gallery, Tel Aviv and thanks each of the lenders to the exhibition: Dvir Gallery, Marian Goodman, Mark Kelman, Yvon Lambert, Metro Pictures, Francesca Pia, Rhonda Roland Shearer, Team Gallery, Roger Walton, and Tracy Williams Ltd. Thanks to our hospitality sponsor Chelsea Hotels.
All photos courtesy of Swiss Institute.