Allergan+Actavis. AT&T+DirecTV. Comcast+Time Warner. Facebook+WhatsApp. Halliburton+Baker Hughes. Tyson+Hillshire. 2014 has been a year of mega mergers, some still in the works. Global deal-making in 2014 has topped the $3 trillion mark (NYT), making these mergers worth more than the GDP of any country except the U.S., China, Japan, and Germany.
With an invisible finger on the pulse of this capitalist frenzy is Michael Wang, who brings another public offering of his Rivals project, up now at Andrea Rosen Gallery, in cooperation with Foxy Production.
Viewers will find powder-coated aluminum shelves housing nail polish, sneakers, pain relievers, bottled water, cigarettes, and cryptic certificates encased under glass.
Each object on the “material horizon” of shelves represents a commonplace good produced by a multinational corporation, and each shelf pairs this good with its counterpart rival. Hence, we have Nike versus Adidas, Tylenol versus Advil.
When a collector invests in Rivals (or in Michael Wang), according to the press release, “The sale of the artwork funds an equal investment in each rival firm as the artist is paid for the work in common stock to become a one millionth of one percent owner of both companies, thereby rendering him a fractional owner of what the artist considers a conceptual merger.”
Michael (with the gallery and collector) simultaneously invests in the corporation and its rival, becoming a shareholder in the conceptually merged firm, e.g. “PFEJNJ:” Pfizer/Johnson & Johnson. The symmetrical transaction begins to level the asymmetry that fosters competition. For a beautifully designed explanation, see Michael’s PowerPoint: http://www.
Because the “conceptual merger” is central here, the collector’s intervention is required before the artwork begins to exist. The collector is the progenitor who brings life to the artwork. Once collected, it follows that the value will increase for the artwork and the rival corporations. Lesson: life begins at valuation. Would capitalism agree? (And if things go as well as they can in the art world, the value of the artwork will increase faster than the value of the shares!)
By focusing on physical products, Rivals taps into the history and discourse of the Readymade, which took commodities out of circulation and recontextualized them in art institutions. Rivals does all of that, but then dematerializes the commodities into “pure” value. Which raises a question: how soon can Rivals take on services instead of goods? JPMorgan versus Goldman Sachs? AmEx versus Visa? Grindr versus Pinterest?