HAPPENINGText: Stephanie Bui (The Daily Couture)

In our world being saturated with images, “The Supermarket of Images” exhibition at the Jeu de Paume, until June 7th 2020, in Paris, works wonders at addressing questions about the economic aspect of images, deriving from the chief curator Peter Szendy’s book, “The Supermarket of the Visible”, and notably the concept of “iconomy” — a neologism from “icon” and “economy” inspired by a quote of Gilles Deleuze. With curators Emmanuel Alloa and Marta Ponsa, the exhibition weathers sharp scrutiny of the materiality of images from a rather Marxist perspective, says philosopher Peter Szendy, who explores images according to the theme of the labor. Images are manufactured items produced by an infrastructure behind the scene that is material. It’s all about storage, management, transportation (including the ecological cost of digital communications) and the paths images follow, their weight, the fluidity or viscosity of their exchanges and their fluctuating values.

Andreas Gursky “Amazon”, 2016 © Andreas Gursky. Courtesy of the artist and Sprüth Magers / ADAGP, 2019

There lies the paradox of images that the exhibition explores, insists Szendy: unveiling the materiality of images whereas they are regarded as immaterial items. 48 artists give the unseen of images a rethink according to five themes: stocks, raw materials, work, values and exchange. 67 artworks are approached through the lens of the iconomy, thus offering a new reading of the artsworks, some of which from the 60’s as well, like the one by Martha Rosler. Amid it all is the question of what happens to visibility in the age of globalized iconomies. Turns out that the razor-sharp scrutiny of the economic ecosystem of images invites us to slow down as well and favor to scrutinize our own relationship to images that are imbued with meanings well beyond the issue of aesthetics, tackling the multifaceted theme of the value of images.

Martha Rosler “Cargo Cult” from Body Beautiful, or Beauty Knows No Pain, 1966-1972. Courtesy of the artist and la galerie Nagel Draxler Berlin / Cologne © Martha Rosler

All in all, in light of the complex questions asked by the curators, the exhibition’s prominent artwork of Evan Roth, “Since You Were Born” (2019-2020), plays out well at conveying an insightful overview of the tools of the trade of the iconomy and our submission to it. The artist explores our interactions with most of our research, shopping, personal and professional communications, reading and leisure activities taking place via the network. They leave indelible traces, producing data, which the big companies that provide us with the network store and monetize.

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Yuka Kasai