The art of money

It’s in our pocket. It’s in our purse. It jangles. It rolls. It crunches new. It folds quietly old. It seems to be always on our minds. And at the Lehman College Art Gallery in the Bronx it’s on full display, whether flying high as a kite or welded and chased into a toolbox or intricately cut from buffalo head nickels. 

Money — both domestic and foreign currency — is the subject of the exhibit, “Mediums of Exchange.” It is a two-part exhibition that first opened at the Borough of Manhattan Community College at the end of January and continues at Lehman College. Lisa Panzera, director of the Shirley Fiterman Art Center at BMCC, and Bartholomew F. Bland, executive director of the Lehman art gallery, are the co-curators of the exhibition. (WAG readers might remember Bland from stories about his work as deputy director of the Hudson River Museum in Yonkers.)

The idea of doing an exhibit on and about money took root about two years ago during a meeting with the directors of the 20-odd art galleries that comprise the City University of New York system.

“Lisa said she was planning to do a show about money. And I said, ‘Well I’m planning on doing a show about money,’” Bland says of the overlap. “So we decided to join forces and do a joint project. We were thrilled to be able to do that. There are about a half-dozen
artists in both exhibitions.” 

WAG was lucky enough to land the effervescent art director for a private tour of the work that fills the space that is made up of  two wings, The Robert Lehman Gallery and The Edith Altschul Lehman Gallery. Bland is the kind of guy who will lift your spirits on a cold, gray, late winter’s day with his unjaundiced eye on the artists’ interpretations of money as odd or unusual as an individual may think.

“There’s a pointed critique of capitalism here,” he says, “C.K. Wilde certainly does that with ‘Indulgence.’” 

Wilde used various shades of pinkish currency to create a nursing sow and her young, a nod to the capitalist pig. But in his comment of his artwork, Wilde acknowledges the irony of making fun of the capitalist system while trying to earn a buck. He states in part: “I must confront my complicity to suffering in the world in order to maintain this esoteric practice of making art. I am a maker of luxury items for the art market … (But) offer my labors in solidarity to those who are still suffering.” 

On another wall, buffalo are set free from their nickel-bound relief and made three-dimensional under the careful cutting of Stacey Lee Webber. Titled “Stampede,” the animals walk along a golden path replete with trees that appear to be The Charter Oak from the Connecticut quarter of the state series of 1999.

Bland appears to be happy with what he has accomplished, from obtaining the artworks to personally placing them in the galleries. He enjoyed  juxtaposing Melanie Baker’s charcoal “Robber Barons” series (Carnegie, Diamond Jim and Rockefeller) with Queen Elizabeth II, Golda Meir and Catherine the Great by Houben R.T. (Tcherkelov) on an adjoining wall. 

As for the robber barons, “their eyes, the window to the soul, are not shown,” Bland says, allowing the viewer to take in the men by their postures and clothes alone.

Next to the robber barons, perhaps acting as a period, a punctuation of  sorts, is Eugenio Moreno’s “La Metamorfosis.” It is a cockroach, laser cut from a credit card, caught in the white light while scurrying up a wall. “It’s the sinister allure of credit,” Bland says.

Bland’s choices all tell unique stories. Stop by before May 4 and see which story most entices you.

The Lehman Art Gallery is in the Fine Art Building of Lehman College at 250 Bedford Park Blvd. West in the Bronx. For more information, visit lehmangallery.org.

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