Galleri Opdahl Stavanger
October 7 - November 12, 2022

Over the past ten years, the Manhattan skyline has slimmed down considerably. The world’s skinniest building, the Steinway tower, colloquially known as the 'coffee-stirrer,' is only the most recent addition to New York's increasingly anorexic lineup of skyscrapers. Its shift towards an architecture of emancipation is driven by a combination of loopholes in urban zoning laws, but more importantly, a drive towards the liquidification of real estate. While real estate traditionally represented the prime example of the non-liquid asset, the super-thin skyscrapers are shaped to circulate markets as fluidly as possible, designed for longevity, marketability and financial efficiency. The slenderness which turns the towers into a moveable asset, coincidentally moves them in the wind to the point of inhospitality. Rather than shelters, these swaying, largely empty buildings, serve as stable and moveable storages of assets, circulating markets freed from the burden of bodies. The new functionality of these apartments exhausts itself in the quantified terminology of New York's grid-system: As one realtor assured potential buyers of apartments in the coffee stirrer; 'If you tell someone you have an apartment at 111 West 57th Street, they'll know exactly who you are and what you are good for,' not where to find you.

The explosive price-growth of art on the private market, paintings in particular, can be attributed to a similar liquidification process, albeit on different terms and with a different liquid style from that of the superslender pencil tower. For some time now, Zombie formalism has been the example par excellence of an aesthetics of financialization. But while the minute variations in form that characterize this style mirrors financial derivatives such as Collateralized Debt Obligations or Credit Default Swaps' logic of quick profitability, miniscule regulation and volatility, a separate financialized style has emerged from the attempt at liquifying painting into a more stable repository of wealth.This style's site of aesthetic production is not the front of the canvas, but rather its back. Here, particularly true of works that have been around for a while, one might find a collage of business cards, certificates of ownership, bills of sale, remnants of transport logistics and inventory numbers – anything pertaining to its proprietorial circulation.

While art historical interest in provenance research is reaching a climax in the wake of discussions concerning the repatriation of stolen artworks, auction houses have long recognized its potential for financializing the recalcitrant and risk-prone art-asset. The establishment of a seamless history of ownership, and the taxonomic branding of the proper noun of the artists similar to the grid system of New York’s skinny skyscrapers – 'a Picasso’, 'a Cezanne' and so forth – has provided artworks the quantifiability and stability that, in a sense, they have always lacked. Because this taxonomical method of attributing value essentially eschews the image, linking value to provenance or the brand of the artist rather than contingent notions of quality, works of art are free to circulate markets without ever really showing their face – attested to in the hermetic storage boxes that artworks increasingly call their home. In the world of digitized storage the importance of the back of the painting is, of course, more symbolic than real. But far from separating art and the informational deluge its circulation entails, digital memory technologies hold the promise of a seamless suture of the image-asset to its provenance, storing auction-prices, successions of ownership and certificates of authenticity in even closer and more ubiquitous proximity than even an artist's signature or labels affixed directly to the stretcher. One could imagine the flood of information and material traces generated by the circulation of paintings not only in financial systems but art institutions and historical discourse (plaster copies, ATA Carnets, archival material etc.) as a form of spiraling post-production that threatens to bury the image beneath itself.

In Provenir Dag Erik Elgin makes this post-production the business of the artist. The exhibition demarcates the attempt at claiming some of painting's primacy over its own circulation, challenging the closed-off nature of financial speculation with the open-endedness of artistic speculation. Such speculation courts convoluted temporalities and ambiguous historicities, as exemplified in Elgin's two empty plaster plinths, first shown at his intervention in the Vigeland Museum in 2020, itself a (re)circulation of context from museum to gallery. The works muddle distinctions between copy and original inherent in discussions surrounding the circulation of plaster copies, but also, by imagining the plinths of Vigeland's neoclassical project as modernist sculptures, the taxonomic demarcations of artistic periods and styles that financial systems exploit in the liquidification of the artwork. The exhibitional design of the plinth is, borrowing the formulation of Julia Kristeva, 'pulled into existence' by the clear imprint of the hand of the once-present artist, representing, in visual terms, the predominant project of Elgin: Pulling the post-product back into the realm of art production.

This is the case in La Collection Moderne (Munch, Starry Night), where an empty frame is presented next to a painted registration of Edvard Munch's eponymous painting. The registration refers to the museal labelling of artworks, but furthermore conveys a detailed account of the artwork's provenance as researched by the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, whose collection currently includes the work. The 18th-century frame last adorned the painting at an exhibition at Henie Onstad Art Center in 1978 according to a stamp on its back, and was acquired by Elgin at an auction.While the painting initially was a gift from Munch to Christian Krohg, Munch later reacquired the work to sell it to Fridtjof Nansen, perhaps considering his collection a more worthy home. Its subsequent journey through a string of illustrious collectors, a trading corporation in the tax haven of the Cayman Islands, before finally finding its way to the Getty, testifies to the painting's many faces besides the pictorial: platonic gift between colleagues, financial asset, cultural artifact. A finished work, future changes in ownership will not register on Elgin's canvas, existing itself as a point in time of Starry Night's circulation, captured in caput mortuum.

Elgin's works are themselves by no means exempt from financial circulation, certainly not in the context of a gallery. Addressing this point in the series Originals, Elgin appropriates paintings through the repainting of works that are either beyond financial reach, have been lost or exist somewhere outside of the market. These repetitions are better understood as the conjuring or beleben of dormant pictorial material, rather than the anachronisms of reliving or experiencing as it was. None of Elgin's Originals are for sale; instead, they are routinely reused in exhibitions, allowing the artist to seize control over their circulation. Circulation is here radically understood as the production of new historicities and speculative horizons, as opposed to that of material wealth.

In the case of Originals (The Black Sun), Mikalojus Čiurlionis' Black Sun is present next to its museal registration. While the original by Čiurlionis was lost sometime during the Russian Revolution of 1917, its last certified owner being that of the composer Igor Stravinsky, the version in the exhibition is a liberal reimagining of the painting by Elgin. His account of the Black Sun's oblivion, however, far from concedes that Čiurlionis' painting now only exists in the purely post-productional realm of archival documentation and rumor. The reference to the past ownership of Stravinsky conjures the performative circulation of music, in which reproduction and repetition is the means of dissemination. Čiurlionis was himself a composer turned artist. Elgin, reversing this transition, produces art in accordance with the reperformative modality of music.

In Provenir, the series after which the exhibition takes its name, Elgin flips the canvas, turning the site of provenance into the pictorial. While the dimensions of the labels derive from real labels, they are abstracted to the point of non-recognition, no longer able to serve their function as neither liquidators of the art-asset nor that of historical inquiry. They have, through a simple gesture, been naturalized into the picture plane. Purpose-built hinges leave just enough space between the wall and the painting for the viewers to catch a glimpse of the white overpaint covering the recto-cum-verso of the works, thus incorporating the potential traces of future provenance into the artwork itself.

Text by Gustav Greger Elgin

Oil on Canvas, 200x175 cm, 2022
Provenir I-III: Oil on Canvas, 200x175 cm, 2022

Oil on Canvas, 200x175 cm, 2022
Provenir: Oil on Canvas, 200x175 cm, 2022

Original Frame, Oil on canvas, 2022
LCM (Munch Starry Night): Original Frame, Oil on canvas, 2022

Galleri Opdahl 2022
Provenir: Galleri Opdahl 2022

Galleri Opdahl 2022
LCM (Ciurlionis The Black Sun): Galleri Opdahl 2022

Galleri Opdahl, 2022
Provenir: Galleri Opdahl, 2022

Galleri Opdahl 2022
Provenir: Galleri Opdahl 2022

Galleri Opdahl 2022
LCM (de Stäel): Galleri Opdahl 2022