For What It’s Worth

The exhibition For What It’s Worth at South Square Gallery is an invitation to consider the relative worth or value of art objects and practices. It features work by Maurice Carlin, Amelia Crouch, Luke Drozd, William Gall, Sarah Harris, Giuseppe Lambertino, Jean McEwan, Kate Murdoch, Beth Rose and Mick Welbourn, including drawings, sculpture, video and photography.

On the back wall of the gallery, Jean McEwan’s photo collages, comprised of found postcards, combine visual, ephemeral, tactile and nostalgic qualities. Accompanied by an impassioned written statement in the publication on the importance of affordable art and the conditions in which artists live, McEwan’s work is an integral part of the exhibition. Beth Rose’s contribution is in the form of four exquisite line drawings of terraced houses and a selection of fridge magnets. The magnets depict a variety of hand-drawn fridge models available on a ‘pay what you feel’ basis. Executed with precision and humour, these are fridges, magnets and artworks all at once.

Kate Murdoch’s work offers a strong critique of ‘worth’ and makes a case for emotional value over valuations according to the logic of consumer capitalism. Here Today is made from found objects of little monetary value but which belonged to her grandmother, now deceased. On a dusky pink bedside table sits a silk flower, a hand mirror, a powder compact and other cosmetic items. These deeply personal objects are held out as irreplaceable artefacts from someone’s life as opposed to consumer objects with market value. In the context of the exhibition the work underlines the disparity between personal and economic worth, between worthlessness and pricelessness, and highlights the fact that some things are simply not for sale.

The accompanying publication explores the participating artists’ positions on value, money and artistic practice in further depth. A series of short essays present a wide range of concerns and often include amusing anecdotes. Luke Drozd, for example, recounts a recent incident at a Brighton print fair when a young woman admiring one of his prints declared, “This is one of the best things I’ve ever seen. But £30 is just way too much!”. Drozd’s response, upon reflection, is suitably sarcastic, “Imagine paying £30 for the best thing you had ever seen?”. The woman’s remark is turned on its head to highlight the tense relationship between aesthetic judgement and the seemingly inescapable structures of the art market. Drozd’s work in the exhibition, a small sculpture of hand coloured price tags on string that sits discretely on a window ledge, is a further comment on these issues.

The exhibition coincides with Bradford City Council’s 2016/17 budget which calls for the removal or reduction of rent subsidies for council-owned community facilities – which includes South Square Centre’s Grade II listed building. Under this legislation the Centre could see their rent rise by £26,000, severely compromising its future. In this context, Giuseppe Lambertino’s photographs Another 1 in 12 Club and The Priestly Main Stage and Seats take on fresh relevance. Lambertino’s photographs, the first showing a street view of the 1 in 12 Club and the second the interior of the Bradford Playhouse, have a starting price of £10 and will be slow auctioned during the duration of the exhibition. Both scenes are devoid of people, hinting at the possible closure of two more of Bradford’s cultural spaces. Lambertino explains that all proceeds from the auction will be donated to South Square, “a beacon and refuge of creativity that has supported me in many ways over the years”.

For What It’s Worth is at South Square Gallery until 28 February.

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Elspeth Mitchell is a writer, programmer and researcher based in Leeds. Twitter: @elspethrose

Images: Kate Murdoch, Here Today; Beth Rose; Fridge Magnets; Jean McEwan, Another 50 Altered Postcards. Courtesy the artists and South Square Gallery.