Love You TenderOctober 3rd, 2013
At first glance, Mark Wagner‘s medium is “money.” But on a closer look at Money, Power, Sex, & Mark Wagner at Pavel Zoubok Gallery, Wagner’s application of collaged banknotes goes beyond those materials and reaches toward concepts more abstract: value, consensus, obsession. The legal tenderness of each “currency collage on panel” squirms under a viewer’s scrutiny of the cut-up money he reconstitutes into Byzantine pictures, grotesque portraits, kaleidoscopic patterns, and one elegant map.
In a world where one trillion dollars in market value can disappear in minutes – and then reappear just as quickly – does a sweaty dollar bill mean much? Then again, as the most frequently traded currency in the world, the dollar opens doors! Milton Friedman famously proposed a “helicopter drop” to raise demand and counter falling prices. By raining down money on ordinary people, spending would increase and prices would rise.
Still, despite that tantalizing image, the dollar really has value based on proportions and credit. In Wagner’s words:
“Though omnipresent, money is becoming increasingly ephemeral. Once it was fully tangible…stamped metal disks. Then it was a piece of paper that stood for an amount of metal held somewhere else. Then the piece of paper was divorced from the metal and valued only in faith. And now paper has given way to electronic currency. The closer you look, the harder it is to see.”
Mark Wagner’s impressive dexterity yields an expansive pictorial vocabulary, rich with enchanting details, seductive textures, surprising transformations, and a monstrous baby. George Washington, of course, initially seems to be the recognizable star of each image, but one starts to realize how he is the face of the dollar more than the face of himself. The intaglio-furrowed George Washington is not the same as the Crossing-the-Delaware Washington. The real star here is the decorated uniform of the dollar itself: the filigree, the seals, the flora and fauna. Looking at these collages might remind us about how much we take for granted of such a mobilizing or paralyzing element of our daily lives.
"Lincoln's, too (Mercurys and Subarus)"
How much actual money went into these collages? Wagner answers this, with a twist, in his catalog:
“A dozen years of cutting up money at up to a thousand dollars a year has generated only a couple pint jars of true refuse. In a way these jars of minced, mangled, and tangled oddments are more compelling than the collages themselves. Any day I might point the art wand at them, declare them a sculpture, and effectively reduce wasted currency to zero.”