Artists

‘I Value, I See, I Mark’: Sarah Meyohas Takes on the Art Market in a Performance at 303 Gallery

Sarah Meyohas, performance at 303 Gallery, New York, January 8, 2016. COURTESY 303 GALLERY, NEW YORK

Sarah Meyohas, performance at 303 Gallery, New York, January 8, 2016.

COURTESY 303 GALLERY, NEW YORK

“I don’t know why people ask me for financial advice,” the artist Sarah Meyohas told me at 303 Gallery on Friday night. This was a peculiar comment, given that Meyohas has an undergraduate degree from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, one of the most prestigious business schools in the world. But, since she also has an M.F.A. from Yale, her next comment made sense: “You know, I’d rather make a painting.”

Meyohas’s 303 Gallery project is fittingly a combination of both of her interests—she’ll be trading stocks out of the Chelsea gallery and tracking their progress in oil stick. In that way, Meyohas is both the broker and the maker of these paintings, and it showed on Friday night, when she staged a lecture at the gallery about the stock market as performance art.

As people crowded into the gallery to watch the artist perform, Meyohas could be seen working the room as any other young artist might at her show’s opening. But then, as she sat down to begin talking, something snapped into place. Her high-pitched voice deepened slightly and became more serious; her gold stilettos and flowing grey dress now seemed more like the garb of a gallerist than an emerging artist.

Meyohas walked over to a glass table in the center of a gallery, lowered herself onto a rolling chair, and took a sip of water, placing her glass back down with an iciness that caught me off guard. Surrounded by blank canvases, she crossed her legs, coolly looked out at the audience, and started to talk about her project.

“A stock is a representation of the company’s assets and earnings,” she began, reading from papers in front of her. “It’s partitioned into shares that are considered personal property. A share always belongs to the owner, or it may outlive any of its owners.”

This was simple enough, but as she went on, she launched into business-speak that few people in the gallery could keep up with. A sample of what followed: “The market is reflexive. Investors are, at once, judging and acting on it. When seeking to understand, reality is the constant. When seeking to act, understanding is the constant. Since the reality of the market is made up of its actions, none of these divots can be anything other than its contingent. And so the divergence between reality and understanding itself becomes a causing factor, as do uncertainty and human creativity.”

Meyohas’s ten-minute lecture reminded me of performances by Andrea Fraser, who often remodels herself as museum directors, other artists, and donors when she speaks publicly. And here, Meyohas seemed to morph into a very well-informed collector or gallery owner. In any case, through this deliberately cryptic speech, Meyohas was no longer her friendly self anymore. But then again, such is often the case when artists try to please the market, allowing their work to become commodities.

Or, as Meyohas put it at the end of her performance, “I value, I see, I mark.” Applause followed, and Meyohas smiled, returning to the crowd to chat with some of her friends. On the way out, I thought I spotted a few people who looked like collectors moving toward her, but I wasn’t sure.

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