Curated by Alexander Nagel
A selection of gifts given and received by: Eric Walker, Eliza Griffiths, Julie Voyce, Stephen Andrews, Paul P., Glenn Ligon, Byron Kim, Paul Ramirez Jonas, Harrell Fletcher, Harriet Sigal, Lisa Sigal, Amy Sillman, Eric Banks, Jutta Koether, Richard Phillips, Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin
Gifts resist simple accounting in terms of exchange value. Even when they are materially useful things, the fact that they have not been purchased but offered as gifts gives them an added, intangible, symbolic value. Human beings don’t only eat and procreate; we make meaning out of things. Gifts isolate and exercise that meaning-generating faculty. Some anthropologists believe that gift-giving was one of the first ways in which humans engaged in symbolic activity. That is, gifts may be deeply linked to the activity of art-making.
How do the two terms, art and gift, define each other? This summer’s exhibition results from putting that question to a number of artists and non-artists. Each interview produced accounts of gifts given and received, and reflections on how those gifts relate to artistic practice. Accounts of gift-giving led to the next giver or recipient, who was in turn interviewed, leading to the next, and so on. The inquiry brought forth a sequence of art works and some non-art objects that show how gifts redefine the boundaries of artistic production, how they relate to other kinds of exchange, and how they move inside and at the edges of the art market. The gift chain that will course through the space of apexart thus prompts reflection on basic definitions—on the definition of the work of art and on the boundaries of an art-making and art-collecting community.
Alexander Nagel is a writer and art historian who teaches at the University of Toronto.