The Triumph of Debt - Spear's Magazine

The Triumph of Debt

Adam Dant's new exhibition.

Adam Dant: The Triumph of Debt
Helen Macintyre Art Advisory
Derek Johns Ltd
12 Duke Street St James's
18th-25th November, 2008

Sponsor: London & Capital Charitable Foundation
Media Partner: Spear's WMS

By Anthony Haden-Guest

It seems inevitable that Dant should now be turning his attention to the credit crunch with his new show, The Triumph of Debt. His acclaimed last show, The Art of Hedge, dealt with the arcane systems of the financial world, celebrating the money fever of London’s coming of age as the financial capital of the world.

The new show lifts a mirror to the darker side of London’s financial alchemists at work, illustrating what happens when those systems – fuelled by a bubble of debt – become the instruments of financial ruin. Dant first signalled his interest in London’s financial world by taking a studio just outside the City of London limits and was soon familiarising himself with its peculiar lore and customs from its beginnings to the gherkinscape it is today.

He turned his attention to the insurance industry, beginning with its ori- gins in the coffee-houses of Jacobean London and the creation of the guilds. The quirky result was a woodcut, The Moneyscrape, which offers shares in money found in the street. His next foray into the business world was called Total Liquidation. It was framed as an investigation into whether the way an artist’s mind works – his mind, in this case – could have any nuts-and-bolts business applications.

“I was basically trying to assess the state of the market by looking at portraits of the individuals who were involved in controlling it,” Dant says. “I was thinking that maybe an artist, whose job is representing emotion, might be able to use his skills to divine something about the workings of the City, in the same way as economists do with their skills. Because people in the City talk about instinct – and gut feelings.”

As with most of his utopian and dystopian experiments, Dant was not being serious here. Except, of course, in some sense he was. At a certain level, finance is clearly an art. Indeed, you could say that, what with its hunches, its superstitions, its deadly rivalries, the world of finance resembles the popular view of the art world rather more than the actual art world does.

From his enquiries into the financial market over the recent years, Dant has produced a significant series of illustrations which both understands the work of these markets and their masters and simultaneously undermines it, seeing the comedy as well as the cash. These include the diptych Hedge Heaven and Hedge Hell, as well another diptych (The Triumph of Debt, after Breughel), the Flight of the Non-Doms and the Art of Hedge, all of which show Dant’s trademark acuity and wit.

For those trapped inside the arcane systems, Dant’s art should carry a salutary message. Dant has, in his work of recent years, seen the Masters of the Universe triumph over their vanquished foe, regulation, and be vanquished in swift return. It is our fortune that he has been there to capture the hubris and the nemesis in his inimitable style.