London’s Dadiani gallery has announced it is taking payment in cryptocurrency. Glint editor Alex Matchett asks the artist and the patron about the relationship between alternative currency and Contemporary art
If cryptocurrency is a maelstrom representing economic malcontent, it is one now being heard in cultural circles. On London’s Cork Street the Dadiani Fine Art Gallery claims to be hosting the first exhibition that will take payment in cryptocurrency. The art on display, they say, echoes the need for alternatives to obdurate establishments. In the wintry London air outside the gallery, the artist Paul Wager (pictured top) explains the exhibition, created to mark one hundred years since the end of the First World War and entitled Requiem for the Emblem of Power.
The ownership of the narrative of war by nation-states still blinkers us to the tragedy, he says. Omnibus, the principle sculpture of the exhibition, is a “neutral memorial” incorporating the iron bones of the French, German, Russian and British militaries. War should compel us to remember the individual as much as the cause, says Wager. Twenty years ago he visited a war museum with his three small boys where he saw the bullet-holed German helmet that features in the work. “It made me think ‘that young man was some mother’s son’. I looked at my sons and thought his father would probably have had the same relationship with him as I do with my three little boys. It made me sympathise with the individual terror these men must have gone through.”
Wager’s works are apt homage to that terror; clinical and unsentimental, they are hard printed lines of collage, reminiscent of propaganda or, like Omnibus, hard-forged sculptures of weaponry akin to the rain-washed memorials that indelibly punctuate the churchyards of Europe. It’s art that has something to say on themes that, since 1918, have never ceased to be contemporary.
The collection encompasses a world view as disconsolate as it is disillusioned. Wager speaks at length on the disconnect between perception and reality, and the price we are paying for that in the modern world. He mentions anarchy, the persistent evolution of war, George Orwell, Brexit, technology and the limited prospects of prosperity for the next generation. If there is a thread that can sew together this eclectic tapestry of meaning, it is art says Wager, pointing to the political manipulation that is as rife now as it was in 1918. “You really question, ‘Have we learnt a lot?’ and I think the answer is ‘No. We haven’t’. That piece in there  quotes Revelations 7.14 [‘These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb’]. That’s quite a profound statement.”
Selling paintings for cryptocurrency does not honour the tragedy of the millions who died in past wars. However, the argument for alternative currencies in intransigent social and economic systems remains and should not be dismissed as trite, despite the contrast, says gallery owner Eleesa Dadiani. “I believe in it. As long as decision-making is centralised, we will continue seeing young men and women being sacrificed for these futilities. The economy is a vital organ of this centralised system. Paul Wager’s art talks about not serving these impending powers; this art, for me, intuitively went hand-in-hand with a system that is decentralised and gives power back to the people.”
The Dadiani Syndicate acts as a brokerage for London-based luxury brands who don’t currently accept cryptocurrency themselves but who want to facilitate such payments for clients. Dadiani says adopters of cryptocurrency are up against a conscious manipulation of the market by corporate media and institutions but they “should [still] hold onto their cryptos,” given the unprecedented growth in the space.
Isn’t combining the two unregulated and highly volatile markets of art and cryptocurrency a bridge too far for many investors? Solutions to volatility are not without their own problems, Dadiani references dollar-crypto pinning service Tether – a firm one expert described as “the biggest scam ever”.
“I agree [the market] is volatile but many, many markets were volatile before they stabilised,” she says, arguing the evolutionary nature of the cryptocurrency market should be seen as an opportunity. “It could be another five years and we’ll still be an embryonic market because this is technology and it is always changing.”
Wager echoes Dadiani’s calls for the facility of cryptocurrency, citing the Establishment’s cosy association with the institutions that caused the financial crash. “If it means people can buy some expensive items with an alternative currency then roll on, let’s have more.” He also believes the meaning of his art compliments the advent of cryptocurrency. “Contemporary art is a very muddled affair. The whole hierarchy of the art world is as complex and corrupt as the political element and the banking element: if you remain outside of it you can absorb what’s going on, whereas if you’re in the middle of it you become smothered by the preoccupation of ‘this is the system, this is how it works’.”
Combining cryptocurrency and art may not grant clarity to either but it will create a curious, fecund dialogue. While Paul Wager’s art has poignantly rendered history’s bloodstained palimpsest, this exhibition has not rendered cryptocurrencies with any meaning. It may do that by receiving 30 bitcoins for a painting, or it may not. The ambiguity of the exhibition’s subtext, taken from another much interpreted source, the Bible (Hebrews 11:1), is fitting: “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”
Paul Wager: Requiem for the emblem of power is on until March 20th at Dadiani Fine Art
Alex Matchett is editor of Glint