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Dollar dollar bill y'all

photo by Jason Schmidt

When conceptual artist Hans Peter Feldmann revealed what he would do with the $100,000 award money that accompanies the annual Hugo Boss Prize, critics were split between those who thought it seemed like an obvious, even hammy approach and those who “wished it could be on permanent display.” Recipients of the prize are expected to use at least part of the hundred-grand towards a new work, but so far no one has dedicated each and every dollar of it in the way Feldmann has – using it to line the walls of the Guggenheim. And while he could have easily obtained $100,000-worth of brand new bills (much more easily, in fact), Feldmann’s $100,000 wallpaper is made up of only used bills. It’s not enough to line the entire rotunda, it’s more than enough for the second-floor gallery, where it will be on display until November 2, 2011.

With a team of assistants, Feldmann tacked up bill after bill, overlapping the crumpled, torn and doodled-on green pieces of paper until the whole room was covered. The result is staggering. From afar the bills look like shingles or perhaps some dizzyingly indecipherable pattern, but up close you see them for what they are, and actually, “it’s uncanny how much character and texture each adds to the bigger picture.”

The piece seems a natural fit for Feldmann, who’s known for injecting his sense of humor into his work, much of which, whether in collage or photography, utilizes repetition. For his 2007 show at the International Center of Photography, he covered the walls with the front pages of newspapers from all over the world from the day after September 11, 2001, and earlier in his career, he photographed every single item in a women’s closet.

His attention to detail and sense of humor are certainly a big part of this show, and so is the commentary it makes on the relationship between art and money. If he sold the piece, what would be the asking price? Remember when Andy Warhol’s “200 One Dollar Bills” sold for $43.76 million in 2009? Or instead of selling it, perhaps on November 3rd Feldmann will take it down, bill by bill, and pocket they money. Whatever he decides to do, I appreciate a good joke and if nothing else, this piece is a striking reminder that while we all take art seriously – and we should – it’s healthy to laugh at it, and in turn at ourselves. As NY Times art critic says, “All that money right there in your face – and yet no part of the installation worth more than a dollar. What can one do but laugh?”