The State of the World: Money and Art Markets

limited access open space
Limited access open space, La Honda Creek, CA (Sept 2012)

A Different Kind of Perspective

I have been an art lover and creator for as long as I can remember. And I’ve been engaged with history, looking at it from all different perspectives for quite some time now.  But art history, art criticism and their effect on the art market? I can take them or leave them. They grab me pretty much the same way my Fidelity Money Market home page grabs me.

To get to my Fidelity account page, I first have to get past the “World Markets” page. Maybe I can change that but I’m not exactly invested in figuring out how to change my home page anymore than I’m interested in figuring out what the Facebook people are up to on my Facebook page.

The World Markets Today, 5/18/13

At the very top of  Fidelity’s world markets list is the United States. No surprise there, though it may be a great surprise to China. I hear we owe them the shirts off our backs. The number ascribed to the United States’ finances on the world markets stage today is 1667.47. What does that mean? Is that the Dow Jones Industrial average? If so, what does it mean? Also linked to the United States (listed immediately below the country’s name) is this: +17.00 (+1.03%). I just want to look at the balance in my little checking account! First though, I need to navigate past this world markets list. Every once in a while I stop and look. Today I look and I wonder.

Down on the list, a little after the United States, comes two Latin American countries, Chile and Mexico. Mexico, at number four, has the number 2742.94 ascribed to it. Is that bad or good? I know that isn’t better than the United States’ world market listing: Although Mexico has 2,742.94 listed next to it, underneath it the numbers read +2.20 (+0.08%).  (The United States’ numbers are +17.00 (+1.03%.)) Listed at number four as it is, it cannot be better than numbers one, two and three – the United States, Canada and Chile – on the list.

Why These Fourteen Countries?

The two Latin American countries on this world markets list are higher up than the Olde World country, Spain, to which they owe their “genesis.” Countries like the one I’m from will never show up on this market exchange. It’s not simply because we are small or that we are New World countries. If that were the case, New Zealand and Singapore wouldn’t be on this list. But they are.

Fourteen countries in all, are on the world markets list. Does the world then, consist of  only these fourteen? Do other places not matter, not exist? Does money in places like India, Argentina, Brazil, South Africa, and Australia, behemoths because of their land mass, not exist?

The most (only?) obscure country on this list is New Zealand. Those of us from the “Third World” must be somewhere on the periphery or totally non-existent. Am I a figment of my own imagination? Are Jamaica, Africa, India, Portugal, and Scotland non-existent? All these places go into making up who I am. So forgive me when I say, “Meh!,” to the world of art history and criticism. They are pretty much like this list of fourteen world markets countries, absurd. The same is true for overpriced art works. (See yesterday’s reblogged article on this issue.) And so, I look askance as I create and define my own art and space in this world.

(The countries listed in order from 1-14 on the world markets list are: USA, Canada, Chile, Mexico, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, United Kindgom, China, Hong Kong, Japan, New Zealand, and Singapore. If one were to buy into what is being said about today’s financial markets, shouldn’t China be the one at the top? Go figure.)

Art, Seen?

The word, “Seen” with a question mark (as used in this title, “Art, Seen?”), in Jamaican vernacular translates to “Art, do you understand/agree?” I first heard the word used that way as a small child growing up in the eastern Jamaican parish of St. Thomas. It was used by the Rastafarians that I encountered on my way to and from school as I wandered along Lyssons Beach. Later on, the word caught on with many in the general population. The use of the word as a question means that you are always questioning and contemplating, seen?

Seen, June 2012
Nigerian Art at the Cantor Museum, Stanford University:

“Art” from the 650-mile long Benue River valley in central Nigeria recently opened at The Cantor. I say “art” in quotes because most of the pieces in the exhibition were created for utilitarian purposes. The more art I see, the more universal the creative process seems to be. Take for example, Munch’s, The Scream and Gaultier’s pointy bustiers — representations of both were seen in these early 20th century creations by the Benue River valley peoples.

“scream”, spirit vessel, clay, from the Ga’anda Spirit Pantheon
another scream, clay vessel
screaming, again

The objects presented are drawn from international collections, most of which seem to be from either Paris museums or private Parisian collections. I couldn’t help but wonder if Gaultier had seen these works in Paris and maybe, drawn inspiration from them. Perhaps. Perhaps not. Does it even matter?

doll-like leather figure, by the Tiv peoples

One of the two artists represented (who created art for others) was Soompa of Mapeo. He was of the Chamba peoples and was active during the 1920s-1940s. He created beautiful male-female double figures in wood.

Both of these figures were in the exhibition. The one to the left is owned by UCLA’s Fowler Gallery and the one to the right belongs to a private collector in Paris. Both photographs are courtesy of the Fowler. (

Two of my favorites from the exhibition are:

  • a male wooden figure by the Yungur/Mboi/Bana peoples, believed to be created in the 19th century, or before. It too, is from a private collection in Paris. Its highly eroded surface suggests that it predates the 20th century; and
  • the rainmaking wands made of iron, used in, you guessed it, rainmaking ceremonies.
eroded wooden male figure
Rainmaking wand, iron, Mumuye peoples, mid-20th century
Of  Interest

In the video montage, “Introducing the Benue River Valley”, and also in the exhibition, there were photographs of people dancing in masks and wearing scarecrow-looking clothes of grass and various materials. These figures in all their regalia would be quite frightening to a child. I saw these same figures as a young girl, growing up in Jamaica. They were the Junkonoo that paraded around the Morant Bay town square at Christmas time. Even more fascinating was the mention of the Idoma and Jukun populations who were separated by the Tiv, relative strangers to the Benue River Valley. I wonder if the Jukun had anything to do with the transfer of Junkonoo customs to Jamaica? Hmmm.

Face mask on metal pole, probably by the Tiv peoples

For more on the Benue River Valley exhibition, visit: The exhibit runs until October 14, 2012.

A good informative article on the Jamaican language is Hannah Appel’s, “Jamaican: Language.”

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