New Capitalism according to Carlos Ginzburg Exploitation of the Past

“How can the art of the 70s be today’s art?” Carlos Ginzburg poses this question before we even enter the gallery. And he observes with mordant irony: “My new art is my old work of the 70s.” Yet, to understand the meaning of this question and the resulting statement, we need to cross the threshold and discover, in the form of an exhibition, a systemic, but personally motivated, critique that the artist makes of the latest mutations of capitalism recounted by Luc Boltanski in his new book Enrichissement, une critique de la marchandise (Enrichment, a critique of Merchandise), written in collaboration with Arnaud Esquerre and published recently in France. This book builds on Boltanski’s sociological research on capitalism.[1] Its starting point is simultaneously the interest in the commercialization of things and in something obvious: in parts of Western Europe affected by deindustrialization and offshore production in regions of the world where labor is less expensive,  merchandise and its exchange continue to be omnipresent .[2] Boltanski and Esquerre note that a new type of economy is developing—an economy of enrichment with one of its principal characteristics being the possibility of creating wealth without the production of new objects. The main vein tapped by this economy is the past since it is an economy based on its exploitation. Consequently, we witness the formation of “an original mode of wealth creation, which relies on  a far more intensive exploitation than had hitherto been the case: a case of specific deposits composed of items stored and accumulated over time, and whose narrativity constitutes a privileged mode of valorization. This economy draws its substance from the past. (…) artworks, even when they are created by contemporary artists, are supposed, should their value be recognized, to be inscribed within a temporality which wrests them from the present, in order for them to be considered from a vanishing point projected into the future, as if they already belonged to the past”[3].

And it is precisely this creation of wealth via the exploitation of the past that  Carlos Ginzburg questions when he turns a work from almost forty years ago into the centerpiece of his exhibition. Thirty-nine boards are covered with photos glued below open travel journals on which the artist—in the manner of tourists wanting to immortalize their memories—wrote captions, locations and dates of where and when the photos were taken, as well as quotations from critics of mass tourism from the seventies like Edgar Morin or Bernard Lerivray. Carlos Ginzburg took these photos in India and Nepal in 1982, they are part of the work he had already started in 1972 and called Les voyages de Ginzburg (The Voyages of Ginzburg). The artist explained his process thus: “I systematically and consciously yield to tourist-like behavior, but the differences between an ordinary tourist trip and my artistic trips, that in the field simulate this ordinary tourist trip, are implicit or obvious critical irony.”[4] Carlos Ginzburg used the tourist tool par excellence, a camera, in order to stage and mock an exoticizing gaze, one that is even racist at times, that Western tourists often cast on places and inhabitants of the so called “third world” countries.

In his exhibition, Carlos Ginzburg challenges the valorization of his work from the seventies and eighties through its inscription into a historical narrative that he himself ironically calls Vintage 1982 by framing it within the criticism of the economy of enrichment.[5] “My new ‘style’ vintage art is null,” “My new work of 2017 is the vintage art I have done in the 70s” say the little books piled up in front of Vintage 1982, encouraging us to reflect on the condition of the artist in this new economy, who has become a sort of zombie capitalist,[6] a living dead reduced to its past.

Hundreds of signboards blanket the ground of the gallery or lean up against the walls. Amongst them we distinguish three “vintage” signboards with photos taken during Ginzburg’s trips to Bali, Crete and Rome on which the words “enrichment” and “2017” were affixed, rephotographed in tourist destinations like Venice, Montenegro and Croatia during the summer of 2017. This mise en abyme of the enrichment that literally invades the exhibition space is also a mise en scène of the aesthetics of capitalism in its new form, which is that of the economy of enrichment.

Monika Dac

[1] Here we are referring to Boltanski’s book co-written with Eve Chiapello Le nouvel esprit de capitalisme published in 1999.

[2] Luc Boltanski and Arnaud Esquerre dismiss “… the thesis according to which our societies will be henceforth post-industrial …” and “recall that we remain more than ever in a universe of merchandise.” In: Lilian Mathieu, “Du déchet à l’objet de collection: la sociologie de l’enrichissement de Luc Boltanski et Arnaud Esquerre,” Lectures (Online), Critical notes, 2017, uploaded on February 20th, consulted on June 6, 2017. URL:

[3] Luc Boltanski, Arnaud Esquerre, Enrichissement. Une critique de la marchandise, Paris, Gallimard, 2017, pp. 73-74.

[4] According to Carlos Ginzburg’s documentation generously shared with the author.

[5] Lilian Mathieu, “Du déchet à l’objet de collection: la sociologie de l’enrichissement de Luc Boltanski et Arnaud Esquerre,” Lectures (Online), Critical notes, 2017, uploaded on February 20th, consulted on June 6, 2017. URL:

[6] Carlos Ginzburg is planning on walking through the exhibition opening wearing a t-shirt that says “Zombie Capitalist.”

Carlos Ginzburg (b. 1946, Buenos Aires, Argentina) is a conceptual artist and theoretician. Over the course of his career, he has worked with art critics and historians including Jorge Glusberg, Germano Celant, Pierre Restany and Severo Sarduy. Ginzburg has been featured in solo shows at 3e Rue Galerie, Paris; Susan Conde Gallery, New York; Galerie Lina Davidov, Paris; the I.C.C, Antwerp, and forthcoming at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles and the Museo Carrillo Gil, Mexico City. He has participated in group shows at institutions such as Fondation Cartier, Paris; Fundación PROA, Buenos Aires; Museo Nacional Reina Sofia, Madrid; Wurttemburgischer Kunstverein, Stuttgart; the Slought Foundation, Philadelphia; Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; PS 1, New York; Moderna Museet, Stockholm; Camden Art Centre, London; International Meeting of Arts, Pamplona; Centro de Arte y Comunicación (CAYC), Buenos Aires; and the Instituto Torcuato di Tella, Buenos Aires. His work has been acquired by the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Centre Georges Pompidou, Fonds National d’Art Contemporain, and the Museo Nacional Reina Sofia, among others. Ginzburg has lived and worked in Paris since 1972.