Edward Burtynsky, Common Culture, Alexander Gerdel, Richard Hughes, Melanie Jackson, Louise Lawler, Hans Op de Beeck, Wang Qingsong, Julian Rosefeldt, Santiago Sierra, Larry Sultan, Brian Ulrich, Andy Warhol.
As a regenerated Liverpool was enjoying its status as European Capital of Culture and anticipating the opening of Europe’s largest retail development, Variable Capital presented a timely comment on consumer culture. Curated by artists David Campbell and Mark Durden (who work collaboratively with Ian Brown as Common Culture), the exhibition featured artists who look beyond the seductive allure of the commodity, to address, in critical and often ironic and humorous terms, how modern capitalist societies produce goods and spend money.
A fascination with popular culture and commodity aesthetics has a long history within fine art. While much artwork produced in this area concerns itself with the allure and celebration of commodities as objects of desire, relatively little attention had been given to the examination of the processes of production and consumption of these commodities. Variable Capital brought together artists, many of them international and exhibiting in a regional UK venue for the first time, whose work interrogated these processes and the human experience and costs underpinning consumerism.
For its title, the exhibition borrowed a term used by Karl Marx to explain how value is produced in a commodity. In an accompanying publication, Variable Capital (Liverpool University Press), the curators discuss in detail works in the exhibition, locating them in a wider historical context.
Variable Capital was the second exhibition in the new gallery space following its opening in 2008. It was temporarily suspended due to a fire at the Bluecoat which meant the arts centre had to close for a short period, so the exhibition was not allowed its full run.