It wasn’t actually Stout Cortes at all, was it. It was Nunez de Balboa who stood, full of wild surmise, and stared at the Pacific.
I had one or my own moments silent upon a peak in Darien this week, at a fascinating dinner at the Whitechapel Gallery, to celebrate the launch of their exhibition The Spirit of Utopia, which opened today.
I had just been talking at a seminar in the City on the future of money, so it was absolutely obvious to everyone there – as people said – that I was not a member of the arts world. My suit and tie, which marked me out in the City as slightly think-tanky, was obviously out of place here. But I had been invited for exactly the same reasons that I had been in the City, because I knew about new kinds of money.
The series of mini-exhibitions under the Utopia title are thrilling in themselves, all of them in their different ways looking at aspects of economics – with the aid of pot plants, psychology consultation rooms, earthworms, and clay (people are making pots during the whole period of the exhibition).
Yes, this owes something to Ruskin – and Ruskin is, as we used to say, the grandfather of the new economics.
You could be cynical about some of this, as people are about the state of fine arts in the UK, but actually there is an energy and imagination about it that is infectious. What I’m not completely sure about is the depth.
Because now that fine arts has discovered economics, and I gather that at one arts school, a majority of Ph.D students are starting their research by reading Hobbes and Mill, it isn’t necessarily connected either to the word of mainstream economics or my own world of alternative economics.
The exception here is Time/Bank, a very successful duo of artists called Julieta Aranda and Anton Vidokle, based in New York and Berlin, whose own contribution at Whitechapel includes a brilliant film and a filing cabinet full of information and pictures about the connections between time and money.
What really fascinated me is that it isn’t that different from my own filing cabinet. It has some files with the same titles. Some even include the same contents. But for this filing cabinet, you have to put on special white gloves to look at it – because it is an exhibit.
My contribution, such as it is, will be a talk I’m giving on time and money at the gallery at lunchtime on 26 July. Do come...
But this arts/economics world is completely new to me, and it seems to me that there is an exciting opportunity. If we could bring the two planets together – the arts/economics world and my own world of new thinking in economics – would that not create more than they are separately?
If we can provide the arts/economics world with more content and the new economics world with more imagination, maybe we can launch a Ruskin Prize to take on the Turner Prize.
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