On first acquaintance, Aktiengesellschaft (Public Limited Company) by Maria Eichhorn (b. 1962) is little more than a literal presentation of a series of standard documents that have to be drawn up and signed when establishing a public limited company. Their linear presentation in a white, bare gallery, with just a few presentation tableaux and benches that would not be out of place in a courtroom, exudes pure functionality.
This is, all the same, a work of art. The unusual thing about it is that it questions not only its own meaning and manifestation, but also the society in which it arose and where it will subsequently be consumed and traded. Aktiengesellschaft is the material outcome of an artistic deed whereby the basic capitalistic motivation of every public limited company, namely pursuit of profit with a safe spread of risk among the shareholders, is undone. As the only shareholder, Maria Eichhorn stipulated in the company charter that the initially invested capital of €50,000 cannot appreciate in value. In doing this she not only calls into question the generally accepted capitalist rules of play in a Western society, but also throws down a more specific gauntlet to re-evaluate the commercial framework that determines the production and trading of works of art. In effect she forces a dissociation of the market value, the aesthetic value and the autonomous significance of a work of art. Since her company’s market value has been stripped of a growth percentage by legal decree, both the aesthetic value and the actual soul of the artwork thrust themselves to the fore. It is, of course, remarkable that the actual work of art, the establishment of the public limited company, involved a temporary deed that, in and of itself, has no enduring material form. Its record on paper, no matter how factual and bureaucratic it seems, constitutes a challenge to reassess our personal stipulations for the recognition and acknowledgement of art.
The Van Abbemuseum plays along with this ‘game’. With the acquisition of Aktiengesellschaft, which Eichhorn originally developed in 2002 for Documenta 11 in the museum has reserved an acquisition sum of €50,000 without there being a physical art object to justify it. All the museum has to show for it is the 100 notes of €500 that have been set aside, a series of legal arrangements captured in words and the right to exhibit them, taking into account certain stipulations. At the same time, it is of course the case that while the public limited company itself is protected from capitalist appreciation, the actual artwork created can increase in value. The museum itself is therefore taking a position in the discussion provoked by this work. In its collection, the Van Abbemuseum wishes to shine a light on the image of capital, its use, and the implications for those who accept (or reject) the resulting societal machinations. Aktiengesellschaft poses such questions through art. By purchasing Maria Eichhorn Aktiengesellschaft, the publication that accompanied this presentation, you can also acquire a manifestation of the artwork and continue to participate in this debate.