Rose Finn-Kelcey

Bureau de Change

1987

In Tate Britain
Artist
Rose Finn-Kelcey 1945–2014
Medium
Performance, person, coins, wooden floor, spotlights, viewing platform and closed-circuit TV system
Dimensions
Overall display dimensions variable
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Presented in memory of Adrian Ward-Jackson by Weltkunst Foundation 2013
Reference
T14259

Summary

Bureau de Change 1987 consists of a large-scale rendering (2290 x 1520 millimetres) of one of Vincent van Gogh’s (1853–1890) iconic Sunflowers paintings (see, for example, Sunflowers 1888, National Gallery, London), made using £1,000 worth of British coinage laid out flat on a fragmented section of wooden flooring. The image of the coin ‘painting’ is lit using a theatrical lighting rig. To one side sits a uniformed guard and a video monitor suspended from the ceiling displays an image of the coin ‘painting’ fed to it by a CCTV camera directed at the work. The installation is completed by a viewing platform from which the piece can be appraised. Finn-Kelcey’s initial motivation for making the work was the sale at auction in 1987 of one of van Gogh’s Sunflowers to the Yasuda Insurance Company of Japan for the then record price for any work of art of £24.5 million. The critic Richard Cork observed of Finn-Kelcey’s piece that, ‘No wonder a security guard sat beside them [the image made out of coins] throughout the show, silently protecting an image whose inflated market value has forced it to undergo an ironic yet alluring metamorphosis into hard cash.’ (In Irish Museum of Modern Art 1997, p.20.)

Her interest, however, lay not only in the original sale of the van Gogh painting but also in the changing power that any image can have and how that power and the meaning of a work of art can be changed simply through market forces. The tableau that makes up Bureau de Change is a constructed illusion, just as the value and meaning of the original painting is presented as a shifting illusion. In this respect the critic Guy Brett has commented about the work that:

The relation of materiality to value has become extremely confusing, and also challenging ... van Gogh’s Sunflowers was apparently only there in the form of the money that it was notionally convertible into. And yet the money was not there as pure symbol or currency but as a surrogate for the alchemy of art. It was hard to say where the value was located between two conflicting kinds of symbol.
(In Chisenhale Gallery 1992 / Ikon Gallery 1994, unpaginated.)

The gold, silver and copper coins that Finn-Kelcey used are close in tone to the tones of the original painting. She explained at the time: ‘Some of the coins are quite dirty to reflect that the money has been in circulation and passed through people’s hands. Once the piece is finished the money has to be bagged up, taken to the bank and goes back into people’s pockets.’ (Quoted in Irish Museum of Modern Art 1997, p.40.) The title for the installation (taken from the commonly used French term for an office where foreign currency can be exchanged), the circulation of the coins that make up its image and the sale of the original painting all depict an idea of exchange value, an idea that is embodied in the image of Sunflowers being sold at auction; just as the painting assumed a greater financial value, so it also accrued another layer of meaning.

The subject of value – both as a comment on the effect of the art market and the capitalist system as a whole – is enhanced by Finn-Kelcey’s introduction of surveillance into her installation as a way of enhancing or emphasising value. At the same time, the presence of the guard locates the work somewhere between installation and performance and contrasts reality and artifice as represented within the situation the artist has constructed. This surveillance is indicated not just by the spotlights, the CCTV monitoring of the coins, or the presence of the uniformed guard, but also by the viewing platform which is the only way that the tableau can be properly observed by the visitor. Describing this aspect of the work, Finn-Kelcey has stated that:

I wanted to give the viewer the optimum position from which to see the work, because the work is on the floor, you really need to look down on it to suggest that it’s come from the painting. I also wanted to emphasise the relationship between the subject and the viewer and to give the viewer a sense of importance, of being raised. I’ve been able, with the attendant and the surveillance to emphasise the preciousness of the work. But the surveillance is also there to re-present the image – the image on the monitor is almost like the painting, some people come in and think it’s a pre-recorded image of the actual painting and it’s only when they see the camera they realise it’s a live image that’s relayed to the monitor and so again the image has undergone another transformation through electronics as opposed to metal.
(Ibid.)

It is this sense of transformation that situates Bureau de Change within Finn-Kelcey’s work as a whole and her dominant thematic of varying forms of changing states, such as the play of the wind (in various works using weather forecast flags and wind socks dating from 1969–73, or the fluttering of analogue pixels on a church façade in Angel 2004); the presentation of environments of steam (Steam Installation 1992, Arts Council Collection) or ice within a controlled environment (Royal Box 1992 and Just Minus 1994), or the installation for Camden Art Centre, Join The Dots 1997, for which windows were blacked out by bales of straw – an urban space becoming a muffled stable. Bureau de Change is also reflective of a different order that joins Finn-Kelcey’s interest in the push and pull of the sacred and profane, as much as in the ties between art and the market that can be equally recognised in works such as her installation for the Millennium Dome, It Pays to Pray 1999, and in A Shot in the Locker 2000. This later work was made for a deconsecrated baroque church in Mexico. The deposit of any coins into an offertory box placed in the centre of the church was amplified by speakers set throughout the church. This led historian and critic Guy Brett to ask if this was ‘a beautiful art event … or a satire on religion’s link with lucre? Both I believe, as Bureau de Change had been, in other terms. The kitschification of Van Gogh is paralleled by the kitschification of religion. Both can be reworked to take on a new meaning.’ (Brett 2013, p.116.)

Finn-Kelcey made three versions of Bureau de Change. The one in Tate’s collection, previously in the Weltkunst Collection, is the ‘Extended Version’ of that created and shown in 1987 and then, extended, in 1988 when it was exhibited at Matt’s Gallery in London. The version shown at the New Museum, New York in 1992 was the ‘International Version’ in which sterling, dollars and yen coins were used to make up the image, while that shown in 2003 at the Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin was the ‘Irish Version’, made using Irish currency.

Further reading
Rose Finn-Kelcey, exhibition catalogue, Chisenhale Gallery, London 1992 / Ikon Gallery, Birmingham 1994, illustrated, unpaginated.
Breaking the Mould, British Art of the 1980s and 1990s. The Weltkunst Collection, exhibition catalogue, Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin 1997, illustrated p.41.
Guy Brett, Rose Finn-Kelcey, London 2013, illustrated pp.50–5.

Andrew Wilson
August 2013

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