Superflex Takes on Finance with ‘Bankrupt Banks’ at Blum

  • “Bankrupt Banks” is the latest solo exhibition of Superflex, an artist group composed of three artists, which continues its exploration of the many facets that have led to the financial crisis.

    The exhibition, which opens on Thursday, March 1 at Peter Blum Chelsea, consists of 24 banners painted with the logos of banks that declared bankruptcy and then were acquired by other banks or private entities. The titles bear the name of the bank and the date it was acquired.

    “These two banks were going bankrupt in November and December 2011,” said Bjørnstjerne Christiansen, pointing to two banners, one that bore a yellow swoosh not unlike the Nike logo, another with three intersecting rings not unlike the Audi logo. Gallerist chatted with the artist during the installation of the show at Peter Blum Gallery several days before its opening. The other two members of the art group, Jakob Fenger and Rasmus Nielsen, were out fielding other interviews. Mr. Christiansen explained that the show is organized chronologically, so when you enter the gallery you’re presented with the banners of banks that most recently went under.

    You wouldn’t know which banks they were because everything but the bank logos had been removed from the enormous white banners–transformed here into minimalist works hanging in neat rows from the ceiling. You can’t help but try to piece together some meaning from the deconstructed icons.

    “We focused on the iconography, but we removed the names. These symbols were made to establish comfort, trust, and so on but they’re rather absurd images,” Mr. Christiansen said, pointing to an image that looked like a bald eagle. “So there’s a lot of humor in them.”

    The group also wanted the banners to be placed in an art context and thereby enter “a new speculative machine” that parallels a similar mechanism responsible for the financial collapse. “It’s important to bring a focus on where it starts,” said Mr. Christiansen. “And it starts with this fascination on speculation and investing.”

    Why banners? Superflex is aiming to tap into the long history of using banners as emblems of power and strength. “In the medieval times,” said Mr. Christiansen, “you would go into a big castle and you would have banners of the dukes.”

    Entering New York is a bit like entering a castle, for the artists, being that it’s a financial stronghold in the global market. “If you look at the financial crisis,” said Mr. Christiansen, “most of the banks which have collapsed are from America.” New York, he mentioned, is also the site of protests like “the Wall Street demonstrations.”

    Speaking of demonstrations, it seems like oddly perfect timing for the Superflex show, being that only the day before we met with Mr. Christiansen, a hoax biennial website was established for the Whitney Biennial, rumored to be the work of protestors affiliated with the Occupy movement, and talk of protests has been swirling around the biennial.

    “I wouldn’t want to say anything about that,” said Mr. Christiansen about the biennial and the protest, “because I haven’t followed the discussion. I’m based in Copenhagen.” However, he had seen the hoax website and said the art group planned on attending the biennial.

    One can see why their work has gained a lot of fans in the financial district. “‘Power Toilets’ was mostly reviewed by the financial sector,” said Mr. Christiansen about their last installation, a replica of toilets from the New York offices of JPMorgan Chase in a Greek diner. “The Financial Times, Progress Magazine. That’s where people get excited.” This has even led to gigs on the corporate lecture circuit about issues they deal with in their work, like copyright infringement.

    The banners, bright white with clean slick logos, look commercially produced though they are in fact hand-painted. And in this way the process is closer, according to Mr. Christiansen, to making banners for demonstrations. Ultimately for Superflex, context is king and the multifarious implications of their work makes them giddy.

    “There are a couple of Icelandic banks represented in the show,” said Mr. Christiansen pointing to a black logo that looked like punctuation. “Their collapse more or less closed down Iceland,” he said and then launched into a discussion about the enormous effect they had on the financial system in Europe. “A lot of the politics, the timelines, who was taking over who; some are bigger some are smaller. We already have two new banks that have collapsed in February. So we’re working on one more banner with the latest one. That probably will be shown here also. So it shows that it doesn’t stop.”

    Like the banks themselves, which continue to plummet, get acquired and thereby have a new life, the members of Superflex see their works as objects capable of similar transformations, turning their signage into art that people can purchase and hold as valuable products. Mr. Christiansen looked up at the blue house of the Fanny Mae logo. “We’re producing new investment possibilities,” he said.

  • Western National Bank acquired by Washington Federal Savings and Loan Association, December 16th, 2011. All photos courtesy the artist and Peter Blum

  • Bankrupt Banks/ BankUnited FSB acquired by BankUnited,May 21st, 2009

  • Integra Bank National Association acquired by Old National Bank, July 29th, 2011

  • Colonial Bank acquired by BB&T, August 14th, 2009

  • Anglo Irish Bank Acquired by Government of the Republic of Ireland, January15th, 2009

  • Sovereign Bank acquired by Banco Santander SA,October 13th, 2008

  • BankWest acquired by Commonwealth Bank of Australia,October 9th, 2008

  • Kaupthing acquired by Icelandic Financial Supervisory Authority,October 9th, 2008

  • Glitnir acquired by Icelandic Financial Supervisory Authority, October 8th, 2008

  • Wachovia acquired by Wells Fargo Bank, October 3rd,2008

  • Merrill Lynch Bank acquired by Bank Of America,September 14th, 2008

  • Fortis acquired by Government of the Netherlands and BNP Paribas, September 28th, 2008

  • Bradford & Bingley acquired by The Government of The United Kingdom and Grupo Santander, September 28th, 2008

  • Washington Mutual acquired by JPMorgan Chase,September 26th, 2008

  • Freddie Mac acquired by US Federal Housing Finance agency, September 7th, 2008

  • Fanny Mae acquired by US Federal Housing Finance agency, September 7th, 2008

  • Roskilde Bank acquired by Danish Central Bank, 26th August 2008

  • Alliance & Leicester acquired by Grupo Santander, July 14th,2008

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