neil cummings


Capital was a series of encounters between two iconic institutions - the Tate and the Bank of England - and the economies of debt and gift that they animate.

Capital card

In the Reading Point on Level 5 West at Tate Modern and in the Bank of England Museum, at unspecified times during the day a visitor was approached by a gallery or museum official. "This is for you" accompanied the presentation of a beautiful artwork - a limited edition print.

The Bank of England is the banker to the whole British financial system, and also plays a major role in structuring global monetary relations. It regulates the financial economy by managing the availability and price of debt. As the lender of last resort the Bank guarantees and distributes the necessary trust, to secure the various interlocking domestic and foreign financial markets.

On the other side of the same coin, is it possible to situate the Tate as the principle institution in a parallel symbolic economy. Like the Bank, Tate connects with a vast network of institutions both nationally and internationally, making-up the global economy of art. Tate guarantees the integrity and value of the artworks and images it distributes within this economy.

Perhaps the fact we are blind to the similarities between both economies has its origin in a structural accident.

The Bank of England was founded upon a debt - a loan to the King in 1674 - while Tate was founded by a gift - from Henry Tate in 1897. Amid enormous speculation about the function of the gift in the social sciences, anthropology agrees on one thing; receiving a gift triggers a debt and the obligation of 'repayment', the counter gift necessitates a return and so on, and so on. We can imagine an endless economy, and unless you have a religious observance, an economy of gift and debt is without end or apparent origin. If the gift and its subsequent debt, or a debt and a subsequent gift animate networks of social obligation, how are these forces structured and regulated?

Is the role of the Bank and the Tate to make these economies, and to make these economies visible?

The honorific Public Gift dominates the economies of our cultural institutions - gifts of artworks, collections, money and services- and as with all gifts, it's characterised by the miss-recognition of the debt it entails. Or more often, the nature of the return is left unspecified. In an economy of value represented by the movement of money, a debt guarantees a contractual and interested return. That's why a loan is never confused as a gift.

Capital was detonated through the issue of gift, selected visitors at Tate Modern and The Bank of England Museum were presented, by members of staff who worked there, with a limited edition print. #####

Capital was also accompanied by a publication and a series of seminars exploring the themes of: Gift, Economy and Trust.

Capital: publication

A book accompanying the project, folds texts and photographs of both institutions around the themes of gift, economy and trust -with foreword by Tate Modern director Lars Nitve and essays by curator Frances Morris, anthropologist Marilyn Strathern, theorist Jeremy Valentine and sociologist Nigel Thrift.

Capital: Seminars

All seminars were curated with Jeremy Valentine


13th May

  • Marilyn Strathern Department of Social Anthropology, Cambridge University
    John Urry Department of Sociology, Lancaster University
  • Speculation about the function of the Gift generated by anthropology agrees on one thing. Receiving a gift triggers the obligation to reciprocate. If networks of social obligation are animated by the Gift and its Debt, what is the role of the Bank and the Tate in participating in these economies, and making them visible?


20th May

  • Jean-Joseph Goux French Studies, Rice University, Houston USA
    Scott Wilson Institute for Cultural Research, Lancaster University
  • The existence of a financial and cultural economy is in many cases taken as measure and test of reality - 'it's the economy, stupid'. But is there an original sense of economy, that would designate a purely financial, or purely aesthetic economy in which 'other' obligations would play no part?


27th May

  • Geoff Mulgan co-founder of Demos, adviser to the Prime Minister's Policy Unit
    Nigel Thrift School of Geographical Sciences, University of Bristol
  • Modern money and artworks evolve as ever more sophisticated technologies, requiring elaborate discourses to interpret them. Both are able to facilitate our experience of daily life, and connect globally with unimaginable force and complexity. How then do we trust the values that circulate within these economies?


Capital: document


Related projects include a text about Generosity, I've co-designed some Currencies and researched the political economy of arts Circulation.

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Tate Modern
United Kingdom

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