By David Trigg “W orks of art exist simultaneously in two “economies”, a market economy and a gift economy. Only one of these is essential, however: a work of art can survive without the market, but where there is no gift there is no art.” —Lewis Hyde1 In The Gift, Lewis Hyde argued that if artists begin to produce work purely to serve the demands of the market, rather than what he called their “creative spirit,” then “it may be possible to destroy a work of art by converting it into a pure commodity.” Hyde considered artworks—true artworks—as ‘gifts.’ The material object, the property, must emerge from the artist’s creative talents. Talent is a gift, an immaterial ability that cannot be obtained through effort or be bought for a price but often produces material goods. The artwork, he maintains, carries the creative gift from the artist to the audience who receive the work in the same way as a gift is received: unless a work of art is the emanation of its maker’s gift, there is no art, only commodity. Although writing nearly twenty years ago, and despite his romantic—even naïve—ideas about artist’s motivations, his argument still resonates today as the art market continues to experience an unprecedented period of exponential growth. During a presentation on her role as curator at the Whitney Museum of American Art, Chrissie Iles discussed her views on the negative effect that today’s expanded art market is having upon contemporary art production: “Art’s become like milk,” she proclaimed, “pasteurised, homogenised, and packaged to the point where people think it comes from the supermarket, not a cow.”2 Iles’ lament was that in a scene increasingly dominated by the pull of art’s commercial systems many artists today are consciously creating carefully positioned, slick but anodyne work designed specifically for the market. “Art students,” she remarked, “now stare rather bored as you critique their work…and then drop into the conversation at the end that Geoffrey Deitch just came in and bought six paintings.” It would appear that for some the difference between art’s gift value—as Lewis Hyde would have it—and its commercial value is beginning to collapse; art’s gift value is being usurped by its commercial value, subsumed by the value of money. The result is homogenisation and, as Hyde asserts, the inevitable dissolution of artworks into the space of the commodity. As Jerry Saltz has observed, “more and more these days I’ve been seeing shows of artists I once admired who now seem to be crumbling under the pressure to sell. I’ve won- dered if some of these artists weren’t just trying to cash in.”3 Of course, the wish to profit from making art is nothing new, nor is it necessarily unethical; but Saltz has perceived a distinct shift in the practice of certain artists suggesting that something their work once had—perhaps its gift value—is now absent. For artists who are directly involved with the flourishing commercial gallery system this is hardly surprising: many are represented by dealers in several countries, all of whom require work for exhibitions, not to mention the numerous art fairs and biennials that have proliferated in recent years. For Hyde, the artist who makes work only with the market in mind is not making real art at all and perhaps for some today their practices are at risk of becoming debased. However, artists who care most about the integrity of their work will, one hopes, resist the temptation to ‘cash in.’ John Baldessari once recalled an experience from the early 60s when, as a young artist, he was trying to secure an exhibition. After approaching several galleries with his paintings, he eventually found a dealer who was willing to give him a show in five months. Excited by this prospect, he continued making the same kind of work until he found out that the dealer had gone bust. So he stopped making those paintings, realizing only then that he had actually concluded that body of work five months earlier and had only kept going because of the exhibition. “That worried me,” he said, “what will the hope of money and acclamation prompt you to do unconsciously?”4 Unwittingly, Baldessari had forsaken his “creative spirit,” shifting the focus of his work away from its gift value, and towards the market. For artists working in today’s profit-driven art world, where sustained commercial success often means capitulating to a market that demands repetition and reductiveness for the sake of increased visibility and signature value, Baldessari’s question is an apposite one. Of course, not all artists are concerned with the remarkable gains of the current art market and it is not surprising to find that some artists are experimenting with alternative ways of organising social and economic structures by developing counter strategies within the dominant commercial system. One notable project, Fine Art Adoption Network (FAAN), is a collaborative web-based initiative instigated by Brooklyn-based artist Adam Simon. Designed to actuate non-monetary exchanges of contemporary art outside of a market context, FAAN enables anyone—or almost anyone—to acquire artworks for free, directly from artists who have decided to take a very different and unique approach to distributing their work.5 Commissioned by Art in General in 2005 and launched in 2006, FAAN functions as an online database where artists post images of work that they are offering for ‘adoption.’ Users browse the site and when a desirable artwork is discovered, an email dialogue with the artist is initiated in which the potential adopters explain their reasons for wanting a work. A flurry of exchanges ensues and although the process is instigated by the collectors, it is always the artist that decides who can adopt their work. As an inversion of normative market transactions, the art is offered as a gift, completely for free, the only outlay being the associated shipping costs. Successfully adopted artworks become the property of the adopter, although artists might impose certain stipulations such as restrictions on the resale of work. Despite its subversive face, FAAN began as a solution to a problem. Simon needed to remove a couple of large paintings from his mother’s house because she was moving. He couldn’t afford to store his works anywhere else and certainly didn’t want to destroy them. At the same time, he realised that while there is a lot of good art in the world, very few people actually own, or can even afford a single painting. Even though FAAN has its genesis in the need to provide a solution for an artist attempting to equate a surfeit of work with limited storage space, there is another driving force behind the project: the belief that critical, cultural production necessitates a re-imagining of the processes by which art can be experienced and shared. This is especially pertinent at a time when it is becoming increasingly difficult to even start collecting contemporary art and for many it is perceived as being an activity reserved solely for a super-rich elite. FAAN’s modus operandi reflects Marcel Mauss’s gift economy, an idea he articulated in his pioneering work Essai sur le don (1924). Through his study of gift economies in (so-called) ‘archaic’ societies, Mauss discovered that, unlike buying and selling in a market economy (where personal acquaintance is immaterial), the giving of gifts tends to forge relationships between people in a community, producing reciprocal ties. In a gift economy, there is no concept of a value-based exchange, only reciprocity-based exchange. It is this observation that led Hyde to describe gift exchange as an “erotic” commerce, opposing eros (the principle of attraction, union and involvement which binds people together) to logos (reason and logic, and in particular the principle of differentiation). But who really wants to give their work away for free? After all, artists have to eat and pay the bills just like the rest of us. It is doubtful that any artist would want to give away their entire output solely through FAAN; indeed the majority of artists involved exhibit widely in museums and galleries and so are already market-savvy. FAAN is attractive because it offers artists a new way to interact with an audience; as Simon notes, “both the artist and the adopter are aware of participating in something outside of the commercial norm. There is a shared sense of shaping a transaction differently…” The difference is that these transactions are ‘erotic.’ This principle is exemplified by FAAN because a relationship between artist (gift-giver) and adopter (gift-receiver) must occur before any transaction can take place. As potential adopters attempt to secure artworks, courtships with the artists are embarked on, resembling something akin to Internet dating. “If you sell an artwork,” observes Simon, “you often have very little contact with the person getting it. But in this case, the artworks are actually facilitating human interaction. There seems to be a fast-track to genuine discussion…somehow, several layers of the usual bullshit vanish from the moment the adopters open themselves up in their letters…that is the intimate level at which the exchange is taking place.” However, erotic relations are not entirely without their complications, and, as with any romance, dysfunction is always a possibility. The notion of giving away art objects as art was previously explored by Ben Kinmont in the early 90s. In For You For Me For Painting (1993), he offered to give away twenty-three of his own paintings, stating that he wanted to “place painting, the artist, and the dealer in a situation of generosity, one where a new social and economic context is created into which a viewer can re-orient his or her experience of a painting.” Kinmont offered paintings made over the previous four years that he said meant “a great deal” to him. Flyers explaining the project were distributed to passersby on the streets of New York and, in theory, anyone with a flyer could turn up at the Sandra Gering Gallery at the specified time to select a painting. However, what appeared to be a ‘free-for-all’ was, in fact, engineered by Kinmont so that many paintings ended up in the hands of his collectors who were given full details of the time and location beforehand. The cynic might conclude that Kinmont was merely trying to save his own neck at a time when the art market was still suffering the fallout caused by the collapse of 1990: left with a glut of work, and faced with a dissipated market, Kinmont’s strategy was to woo his collectors by offering them free paintings and by doing so renew the buzz around his practice—perhaps believing that, when the market commerce and the reciprocal ties that it would create. To be fair to Kinmont, if indeed he did care “a great deal” about the paintings, then—in line with Hyde—they are to be considered genuine gifts. It is only natural that, like the FAAN artists, he would want his work to go to a good home, to be owned by a trusted collector who offered an appropriate level of care and who understood—what the artist perceived to be—their true ‘value.’ But even free gifts are sometimes unwanted. Of the twenty-three paintings offered by Kinmont, thirteen went to previous collectors, eight to strangers, and two remained unclaimed, not bad considering that one critic described them as “shoddy and almost repellent…more like the messy rem- nants of a high-school chemistry experiment.”6 One wonders how Kinmont’s work might have faired if FAAN were around at the time; would anyone be enticed into a courtship over his “shoddy” work? While the work on FAAN is of variable quality, it is unclear whether un-adopted artworks have actually been solicited or not. By reorienting the parameters of the artist/collector relationship—transporting it from a market economy into a gift economy—FAAN emphasizes to artists that their work has value outside of the marketplace, opening up the potential for exchanges and encounters that are the antithesis to those commonly found there. The fact that many artists continue to use FAAN indicates that something worthwhile is being offered to them. As Matt Davis, an enthusiastic participating artist, put it, “this process has a purity that no gallery can compete with.” Another artist, Austin Thomas, who has pieces in several major collections and runs her own gallery, described the adopting process as “an amazing experience.” One adopter of her work even reported that the gift had “changed their life,” something that Thomas hadn’t anticipated: “never has a collector paying cash ever spoken about a piece in that way.” Just as Baldessari’s realization saved him from a career serving Mammon, so FAAN avails artists with the occasion to reflect on the core of their practice, to question the source of their motivations and aspirations, and to situate themselves in a position of generosity where they call the shots. As a public service, FAAN goes beyond a mere critique of the art market; it provides an alternative to it. However, artists are undeniably operating in a cultural field that has become inextricably linked to, and entirely penetrated by the market. Claiming that you won’t participate in the market is, as Saltz has said, “like saying you refuse to breathe the air because it’s polluted. Unless you live in a bubble, you may have no choice.” Conversely, FAAN may impact the market positively by expanding the community of buyers who have had their appetites for collecting art whetted. There is the potential here to spawn a new breed of collector who not only values the artwork itself but also understands the value of erotic commerce and the potential gains of courting artists for their gifts. Also for the museum, FAAN offers a chance to connect with artists and acquire works for their collections wholly apart from the commercial sector. This is surely beneficial for both artist and museum (and even, arguably, the commercial gallery), especially when curators like Chrissie Iles have complained that the price of a single painting can be higher than a museums entire annual acquisitions fund. FAAN, then, should be regarded as an addi-tion to the market, rather than an attempt to usurp the it; and if it is true that “where there is no gift there is no art,” then FAAN's presence is a corrective adjunct, which is both timely and necessary. _David Trigg is a writer and critic based in Bristol, UK. His text was originally commissioned by Situations at the University of the West of England, Bristol and funded by the Arts Council England._ From "Adam Simon: Fine Art Adoption Network":/store_items/100/