BitchCoin Creator Makes Art Out Of Stock Trades
Artist Sarah Meyohas first struck out with the cryptocurrency BitchCoin, which is described on its website as “a digital currency backed by the photography of Sarah Meyohas, at a fixed exchange rate of 1 BitchCoin to 25 square inches of photographic print.” It’s a pretty genius idea, and Meyohas is once again making waves in the art world with her first Manhattan solo exhibition, Stock Performance. Surrounded by blank canvases and dressed in a sheer gray gown covered in gold pinstripes – a kind of feminized business suit she designed for herself – the artist opened the show, on January 8th, with a public talk to discuss the project. As she explained to an eclectic audience of artists and bankers alike, Meyohas would spend the next ten days making trades on the New York Stock Exchange from 303 Gallery.
Each day, Meyohas selected a company with little trading activity to buy stock in, thus driving up the price and manipulating the market. Each time she affects a stock valuation, she marks each shift with a gesture on canvas, creating a tangible record of her place within financial markets. So before the 10-day performance began, I visited the artist at her home and apartment gallery, MEYOHAS, on the Upper East Side. After taking a peek at the current show in her living rom – her newest show features works by painter Susanne McClelland – we sat down to talk about trends in art, the nature of financial markets, and how her work has evolved since BitchCoin, the virtual currency she developed to allowed people to invest in her career.
Meyohas’ unique educational background – she holds a degree in finance from Wharton and recently completed an MFA in photography at Yale – opened up the philosophical connections between the art and business worlds that few are able to see. “When I decided to become an artist,” she told me, “there way no way I thought I was going to make art about finance. At all.” As a break from her finance studies, she took a photography class just for fun. “And it just snowballed from there, it just went really fast. And it just got to the point where if I didn’t give it a shot, like a real shot, I would have regrets.” She continued, “it was a gut thing – I just needed to do it. And you don’t become and artist – you should not become an artist out of anything other than necessity. If you don’t need to be an artist, you should not be an artist,” she laughed.
Stock Performance is not about criticizing capitalism or Wall Street culture – many artists have tread that path before. It’s about understanding what financial markets and contemporary art have in common. Standing in front of an abstract painting, the observer projects their own ideas onto the image, attempting to find meaning. Art viewing, and art prices, for that matter, are inherently subjective, where we try our best to see into the future in order to determine the object’s value. Stock trading is filled with subjectivity, too. Prices are determined by what investors feel a company is worth. As Meyohas told audiences at the opening, “A quantifiable, single price is what brings together many perspectives, turning judgement into data, emotion into a line. Whatever fluctuations occur in this field of thoughts and perceptions may not indicate any change in the underlying company, but what investors feel the worth of it is.”
Where, then, do we find truth? “ Truth on the market,” Meyohas tells me, “is something I’m really interested in. Art, also, to a certain extent, makes a claim to truth, and where to locate that is always a question.” The paintings’ minimalist, black-and-white aesthetic intensifies the viewer’s search for concrete answers. “There are no distractions, other than the two-fold nature of affecting the market, drawing it on the painting, there’s no extraneous, labored background to make you admire something else, you have to be confronted with it.” Any other visual choice would be a completely different project. “There would even be a difference if I was drawing it out accurately, right? With little notches that represented the different prices, and the different times, and had an Agnes Martin grid in the background- even that would be different.” Instead, Meyohas chooses to zero in on what’s absolutely essential.
Now that her performances have come to a close and the paintings completed, we have to wonder: how much will this 24-year-old artist’s works be worth one day? We can only guess.
Check out Sarah Meyohas’ works through January 30th, on view at the 303 Gallery.
Images courtesy of the 303 Gallery. Lead image by Sarah Mehoyas.