Flick through any art news source over the last few months and you’re guaranteed to find a story exclaiming at the giddy, apparently exponentially increasing prices being commanded at various auctions. When the winning bid for Picasso’s ‘Women of Algiers (Version O)’ led a slew of record-breaking prices by commanding $179 million at Christie’s New York in May this year, arts journalists started asking lots of money-centric, sometimes philosophical questions – about perceived cultural value; what a work can really be said to be ‘worth’ (is each brushstroke valued at $100? $200? $468.74?); and why art of every age is now perceived as a kind of currency in its own right.
The current exhibition by Zimbabwean artist Gareth Nyandoro and Hull-born Richard Parry at Narrative Projects profoundly hints at all this and more. They’ve called the show ‘Round - tripping’ – a dodgy-sounding financial term to describe the inflationary practice of companies selling off assets then buying them back at a higher price, and one that sounds eerily related to the nefarious practice of art flipping that is currently causing so much reported damage to young artists’ careers.
Both artists have taken the concept of the marketplace as their starting point, offering takes on it filtered through their own, culturally-specific lenses. Parry’s two mirrored glass pieces from 2014 and 2015, imprinted with insanely hyper-inflated (one hundred trillion dollar) Zimbabwean banknotes, are a continuation of the ongoing ‘Art Zimbabwe’ project that he started in 2009. Titled after the original notes’ serial numbers, they reflect their context at the very moment we view them, both literally and figuratively – here we see ourselves, the edges of Nyandoro’s roughly-hewn collages and the crisp whiteness of the impeccably lit gallery.
In the second space, Parry’s video piece ‘Not Not Fireworks Display’ (2014) documents the artist and friends putting on an intentionally crummy show of pyrotechnics in the new Elephant and Castle regeneration zone – a tongue-in-cheek celebration of the area’s rapid and forced redevelopment.
Gareth Nyandoro’s collages and installation speak just as loudly, albeit with a contrasting cultural aesthetic. Inspired by the street markets of Harare that are increasingly awash with foreign, imported goods, he’s created fluid collages and a vividly-coloured installation that offers a skewed reconstruction of one of the Zimbabwean city’s market stalls. The scraps that spill from the bowls in ‘Where The Nation Shops and Saves’ (2015) have been recycled from the artist’s previous works – a contemplation, perhaps, on the market practice described in the exhibition’s title. There’s a scrumpled materiality to Nyandoro’s pieces here that makes them almost irresistibly tactile, received ideas about the fragile nature of consumption in an emerging economy are rejigged and delicately rendered through portrayals of everyday experience.
The best two-person shows hit noticeably different and equally punchy notes from those of either artist shown individually, delivering a distinct and new message together that they couldn’t alone. The curation here is bang on – narrative projects’ Daria Kirsanova has obviously and intelligently thought through the multiple layers and complementary approaches in Nyandoro and Parry’s work, and it shows.