Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The art of defaced currency and mangled money

You can find art anywhere.

I have said that for a while now and I truly believe it. The phrase "eye of the beholder" may have long since been rendered to cliche, but cliches exist because there is truth to them. Even if sometimes just a bit. Many may not see it as art, but I enjoy taking photographs of everyday objects at extreme range. At such close range, the surface of road asphalt or the metal patterns in a manhole cover seem to become completely different things. So when I saw this article about mangled and defaced currency becoming art, I was suitably intrigued.

Like many other people, I have a love/hate relationship with money. Sure, it's great when you have it, but it infuriates me to no end how all existence appears predicated upon it in this little reality we have chosen to construct for ourselves. Especially in America. So when artists take the power back and transmute avarice, turning it on its head, I kinda dig it. Personally, I love getting cash that someone has drawn or otherwise marked upon, turning it into something else. I interpret it as a statement of "you don't really own me, not when I can do this to you."

The article at the link describes the collection of Harvey J. Spiller. He is a coin and cash collector who only acquires currency that has been mangled or defaced. "By looking at bills through the cockeyed lens of mutilation," he says, "I had the area to myself. Nobody wanted it. It was a way to have my own Picasso collection if you will."

These "Picassos" include quarters that are bent and crimped, verdigrised pennies, and dollar bills both worn and marked upon, transforming them into other things entirely. Is that not partly the goal of art? Change how you look at an object? Reveal the subjective nature of reality in that one object can have multiple and relative meanings to many? In reading about the mangled coins, I recalled someone I interviewed on the Jicarilla Apache Reservation last week. He was telling me about an old railroad line. As kids, he and his friends used place pennies on the rails and wait for the trains to come by and flatten the coins. 

What was once, again relatively, worthless currency became new works of copper art. Have we not seen this before? If Warhol were still alive (and curse it all that he is not) and he either scribbled or painted on a one dollar bill, would that note not become suddenly worth millions of ones? Of course the concrete realist or other criticaster would never be satisfied with such, but who listens to them? As a side note, never go to an art gallery with a biologist. 

But I digress...

I had this additional thought: as more and more of our "money" is transacted as a series of zeroes and ones, might physical currency not become artwork and craftsmanship of a bygone era? Might a 2002 penny or quarter become worth far more than its face value?

As with most art, it's all relative.

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