‘On the Money’ at the SFMoma Rental Gallery

harry roche on the money review

Anybody who doesn’t believe that money makes the art world go ’round is viewing it through a rose tinted fog. Although one would never mistake Fort Mason for Fort Knox, “On the Money: At the intersection of Art and Commerce” unfolds as one of the more engaging exhibitions mounted inside the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art’s inconveniently dislocated Rental Gallery. Four Bay Area Conceptualists – Ray Beldner, Robin Clark, Lisa Kokin and Oriane Stender – plus one celebrity duo, Houston’s The Art Guys, use (and abuse) real money (and/or artful facsimiles thereof) with barbed wit and infectious humor as they explore, expose and excoriate this long-standing union.
Beldner’s “Money Bags” are just that-ten cartoonish sacks constructed from crisp one dollar bills plopped in a pile on the floor. While one might reasonably conclude that these tied-wads are empty, they’re apparently full of sawdust and horseshit. Nearby, grist for a cheekier male power mill surfaces in Beldner’s off-the-wall Peelavie. A flushed homage to Ducahmp’s once scandalous “Fountain”, Beldner’s dollar bill urinal proves that conceptual sculpture does indeed take place in the head. And if it’s de rigueur to drone on about of the “commodification of art”, here we have the commod-ification of art. As the artist conflated hight and low art, Beldner once again opts for the lowest common denomination. In doing so, he also equates the executive wash room with the pit bull’s fire hydrant (“in Dog Dog we trust…”) as a locus of power. (Talk about liquidating one’s assets!)
Clark’s ghostly yet abrasive politically charged pencil portraits on scraped bills of various denominations aim for the funny bone and jugular. a “2 Dollar Bill of Rights” depicts Thomas Jefferson as a Native American clutching the Declaration of Independence, while My Favorite Flag-Pole finds Andrew Jackson sporting a huge erection on the front side of a twenty. (call it cold, hard cash). Henry Kissinger’s famous quip notwithstanding, for many Americans money remains the ultimate aphrodisiac. Of course, the sex-money-power triumvirate is inextricably intertwined.)
An even stranger currency invests Kokin’s flea=market fetish objects with a powerful primitivism. “The Prisoners” evokes a death row of small, mummified, shrunken heads, as Kokin reminds us that one ca get away with murder if s/he has enough money. Her gallows humor goes for broke in both the gastronomic “There But for Fortune” in which seven cancerous money bags spill their guts of schredded cash like so many rancid pinatats. And, the anthropomorphic “In God We Trust” an eviscerated wall of mutant weapons, tools or body parts torn limb-to-limb. So much for civilize veneers.
Taken at face value, Stender’s exquisitely crafted mosaic, “4 Marilyns, 108 Georges”, may be the piece that most seamlessly embodies the exhibition’s title. Enshrined behind Plexiglas, this iconoclastic icon deftly floats Washington’s face onto Andy Warhols’ pink Marilyn, where it becomes a lurid symbol of the green-eyed blood lust pursuit of fame, fortune and celebrity endemic to America and the art world. In a culture that worships at the altar of the almighty buck, it’s no accident that the facade of the New York Stock Exchange is that of a Greco-Roman temple. Grafting the Father of our patriarchy onto the archetypal sex goddess is a match made in Hollywood.
Upstairs, the buck stops with The Art Guys’s smirking prints of fabricated coins. Whereas Stender’s paper doll-ars and most of teh art on view is literally made of money, this conceptual twosome prints schematic coins of various sizes and denominations. “Random Coin Drawing #3 is an enticing carrot for anyone who’s ever felt nickel-and-dimed to death. Among other things, its shower of anemic pocket change offers deadpan commentary on collectors who view art exclusively in terms of its monetary value (i.e., “art appreciation” has nothing to do with aesthetics). Lurking behind glass, this semi-precious object d’art -“free-floating_signifier” in artspeak-lurks just out of reach…just beyond your next paycheck. – Harry Roche

  • Harry Roche
  • Artweek
  • June 1999