The tenets of advertising, publishing and entertainment culture receive rigorous examination in the work of Sam Lewitt. Betraying a great familiarity with the historical materialism of Walter Benjamin, the American artist often fabricates artworks to resemble things that have shed commodity value, and while obsolescence facilitates their study, they are equally beholden to other contemporary processes: namely, as Lewitt writes, the ‘fantasies of flexibility and connectedness’ that accelerate ‘new means of rendering and displaying old goods’. For I hereby promise… etc, his 2008 solo exhibition at Miguel Abreu Gallery, New York, Lewitt considers the construction of value, in the creditor–debtor relationship, with reference to Howard Dietz’s past authorship of the MGM lion logo and phrase ‘Ars Gratia Artis’ (art for art’s sake). Dietz’s reclamation of a nineteenth-century aestheticist mantra and elements of ancient culture during America’s (first) worst economic crisis endowed an emergent medium – and more specifically, an emergent film studio – with borrowed legitimacy, a point Lewitt emphatically makes by casting two lionhead coins in a cheap brass alloy known as ‘antique gold’ (two parts of Art should be… etc, 2008). This narrative is historically bookended by the third part of the aforementioned work, a photograph of gold-painted film stock Lewitt has digitally manipulated to mimic the MGM logo. As computer-reliant cinema dresses itself up in authoritative signs of the past, the medium’s tenuous story of self-accreditation adds another chapter – one that makes for a rather similar read to the latest in the financial market’s own master tome.
This article was first published in the March 2009 issue.