Peter Lunenfeld on Fri, 5 Jul 2002 06:59:03 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Supreme Court rules earning should be protected as art

For the the dotcom observatory's archive, file under

Recognition of Pro-Formalist Movement Gets WorldCom, Andersen Off Hook 

    Washington, D.C. (  In a surprise decision that
exonerates dozens of major companies, the U.S. Supreme Court today ruled
that corporate earnings statements should be protected as works of art, as
they "create something from nothing."

    "One plus one is two. That is math. That is science. But as we have
seen, earnings and revenues are abstract and original concepts, ideas not
bound by physical constraints or coarse realities, and must therefore be
considered art," the Court wrote in its 7-2 decision.

    The impact of the ruling was widespread. Investigations into hundreds
of firms were cancelled, and collectors began snatching up original
balance sheets, audits, and P&L statements from WorldCom, Enron, and
Global Crossing. Meanwhile, auditing firms such as Arthur Andersen (now
Art by Andersen) were reclassified as art critics, whose opinions are no
longer liable.

    "Before we had to go in and decide, 'Is it right, or is it wrong?'"
said KPMG spokesman Dan Fischer. "Now we must only decide, 'Is it art?'"

    In Congress, all further hearings into irregularities were abandoned
in favor of an abstract accounting lecture given by Scott Sullivan, former
Chief Financial Artist of WorldCom, which had been charged with fraud for
improperly accounting for $3.85 billion.

    "Art should reflect life, so what I was really trying to accomplish
with this third quarter report was acknowledge that life is an illusion,"
said Sullivan, explaining his acclaimed work, "10Q for the Period Ending
9/30/01."  U.S. Rep. Billy Tauzin of Louisiana, however, was forced to
apologize, admitting he could only see a lie.

    "Yes, well, a man with a concretized view of the world may only be
able to see numbers that 'Don't add up,'" said a haughty Sullivan. "But
someone whose perceptions are not always chained to reality  a stock
analyst, say  may see numbers that, like the human spirit, aspire to be
greater than they are."

    Several Sullivan pieces are now part of a new show at New York's
Museum of Modern Art entitled, "Shadows & Spreadsheets: The Origins of

    Robert Weidlin, an SEC investigator and avid collector, was among the
first to peruse the Enron exhibit, which takes up an entire wing of the
museum "You look at these works, and you say 'Is this a profit, or a loss?
Is this firm a subsidiary, or a holding company?'" said Walden. "I have
stood in front of this one balance sheet for hours, and each moment I come
away with something different."

    Like other patrons, Weidlin said he didn't know whether to be
impressed or outraged, a reaction that pleased Andrew Fastow, the former
Enron CFA who is a leading proponent of the Trompe L'Shareholder style.

    "An artist should not be afraid to be shocking," said Fastow. "As did
the Modernists, we should fearlessly depart from tradition and embrace the
use of innovative forms of expression. Like, say, 'Special Purpose
Entities' and 'Pooling of Interests.'"

    Sullivan, meanwhile, said he was influenced by the Flemish Masters,
particularly Lernout & Hauspie, the Belgian speech recognition software
company that collapsed last year after an audit discovered the firm had
cooked its books in 1998, 1999, and 2000.

    "Lernout & Hauspie simply invented sales figures, just willed them out
of thin air and onto the paper," he said. "Me? I must live with a
spreadsheet a long time before I begin to work it. You must be patient and
wait until the numbers reveal themselves to you."

    And what about the reaction to his work? "I realize people are angry,
people are hurt. But I cannot concern myself with that," he said. "As with
all true artists, I don't expect to be understood during my lifetime."

    (The MOMA exhibit runs through Sept. 3. Admission is $8, excluding a
one-time write down of deferred stock compensation and other costs
associated with the carrying value of inventory.)

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