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  • Face Value (the Prosopa of Money)
  • Peter Szendy (bio)

At the Prada Foundation in Milan, I recently visited an exhibition curated by Germano Celant and dedicated to the works of the American artist William Copley (1919–96), who was also a gallerist and friend of Man Ray and Marcel Duchamp. With a distant interest (I wasn't really convinced by what I saw), I was strolling in front of the paintings, drawings, and collages, when I stumbled upon a mirror embedded in—or grafted on—an enlarged reproduction of a $100 bill, a banknote hollowed out by the empty contours of feminine bodies. I stepped closer to the wall to read the label: "Feel Like A Hundred Bucks, 1986; acrylic, charcoal, and mirror on canvas." I then stepped back and took a picture in which I appear in the mirror, with my face masked by the device (an iPad) that I am holding to photograph it (fig. 1).

Of course, there are many works with or about money in modern and contemporary art. In 1919 Duchamp drew a check (in both senses of the verb to draw, not unlike its French equivalent, tirer) for his dentist Daniel Tzanck, thus creating—according to his own terminology—a "readymade imité" titled Chèque Tzanck or Dessin Dada.1 In 1924 Duchamp issued a limited edition of thirty Monte [End Page 99] Carlo Bonds (Obligations pour la roulette de Monte Carlo), this time with a reproduction of his face on it, covered with shaving cream and photographed by Man Ray. Duchamp's checks and bonds are the prefiguration of a series of later works like Yves Klein's receipts for the purchase of a "zone of immaterial pictorial sensibility" (Zone de sensibilité picturale immatérielle, 1959) or the various banknotes that Joseph Beuys inscribed with the words Kunst=Kapital (between 1979 and 1982).


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Figure 1.

Photograph taken by the author

What made me stop in front of William Copley's mirror, then, wasn't anything new about art and money. What was it? And why was I so intrigued by the imperative of its title, Feel Like a Hundred Bucks? Why was I tempted to take at face value this injunction to literally empathize with a banknote? It had something to do with the elusive and unsettling relation between face and value that was lurking behind this collage in which I ended up an element among others. I found myself somewhere at the intersection of two motivic threads in modern or contemporary art: the representation of money, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, the faceless contour of the human head, as it already appears in a number of works by René Magritte (think of the two versions of Les amants in 1928 or of L'heureux donateur in 1966).

These two motifs are present, for example, in the work of the German artist Hans-Peter Feldmann, who famously pinned on the walls [End Page 100]


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Figure 2.

Hans-Peter Feldmann, Miss Pound. © Hans-Peter Feldmann, courtesy 303 Gallery, New York

[End Page 101]


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Figure 3.

Miron Tee, Shame (2013)

of the Guggenheim Museum in New York one hundred thousand $1 bills in 2010 (when he was awarded the $100,000 Hugo Boss prize) and who also produced, starting late in the first decade of this century, a series of photographs with cut-out heads (like his Liebespaar ohne Köpfe in Holzkiste, 2013). Now, in his collages Mister Dollar and Miss Pound (fig. 2), the two thematic lines are intertwined, since the faces of Abraham Lincoln and Elizabeth II seem to have found themselves on the $5 bill or ₤5 banknote by chance, exactly like myself when I ended up in front of the mirror in Copley's Feel Like a Hundred Bucks. This is the same impression one also gets when looking at a recent piece titled Shame (2013), by digital artist Miron Tee: George Washington "seems to be ashamed to appear in the bill," says the short comment on the Spanish online platform where this work is...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1938-8020
Print ISSN
1041-8385
Pages
pp. 99-119
Launched on MUSE
2018-08-17
Open Access
No
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