Gerry Tebben passed along this New York Times article about
an art project distributing edge-lettered cents. Thanks!
The artist Jill Magid describing her art project, "Tender,"
at a shop in Manhattan's financial district.
A conceptual artist walked into a bodega during a pandemic carrying a box full of pennies.
The place was one of those ubiquitous New York smoke shops that uses tobacco pipes in their signage instead of the letter "S." The artist was named Jill Magid, and she approached the man at the counter, giving a pitch that she didn't quite have down to elevator length.
"I want to pay for this in pennies," she said, picking up some Ferrero Rocher chocolates. "They're engraved as part of a dispersed monument. See?"
The clerk put on his glasses and squinted at the edge of a coin. "The. Body. Was. Already. So …"
"Fragile!" Ms. Magid finished for him. "You have good eyes."
"It's too small," the clerk concluded.
In the end, he seemed to understand. He accepted the pennies, and Ms. Magid strolled out with her chocolates. She had several hundred more bodegas to go.
Last week, Ms. Magid was walking around the Financial District and dispersing hundreds of pennies, the first portion of a complex public artwork she calls "Tender." She had already spent four months securing the coins from various banks and finding a man in Sheepshead Bay who could build a machine to engrave their sides with the same tiny text.
The plan? Ultimately to inject 120,000 pennies into the economy of the five boroughs throughout the year, with that number being symbolic of the $1,200 checks that many Americans received at the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak. For most of the project, she would be followed by a Brink's armored truck — meant to evoke the mobile morgues that had become one of the most enduring images of a pandemic-stricken city. But for now she was on foot.
"This part of the project is, excuse the pun, the most pedestrian," Ms. Magid said, walking to the next drop-off point.
The artist was referring not only to the literal act of walking around New York City but also the fact that the dispersal of coins was the least cerebral part of the endeavor. "Tender," which was funded by the nonprofit arts group Creative Time, is supposed to bring art to regular people. But given that the totality of its meaning depends on many details, down to the font used for the coins, it was no wonder that those regular people sometimes got confused.
Fun project. I hope some of these pieces end up in collections and catalogs. Someone should take a clear photo of the edge lettering.
And what does the lettering device look like? A modern-day Castaing machine? She reminds me of my friend J.S.G. Boggs, another conceptual artist who loved making people think twice.
As a conceptual artist, Ms. Magid focuses on creating moments of exchange with people she might not otherwise spend time with. In 2007, she offered to teach a New York police officer about art in return for shadowing him. (He declined the lessons, but let her follow him around and gave her a hollow-point bullet.)
Her art also has a stunt quality. In 2015, she exhumed the remains of Luis Barragán, the great Mexican architect, and ultimately enlisted a laboratory to pressurize the carbon of the bones into a diamond. "The Proposal," the film she made about trying to trade the jewel made from Barragán's bones for access to his archive, was well received. Many Mexicans, though, were less than thrilled, with some critics likening the work to necrophilia and others demanding an investigation into how that was even allowed to happen.
"Tender" was a different kind of project. "Usually in my work, I'm the protagonist," she said, "but with this one I want to disappear." For the penny distribution, she was dressed like an extra — from her zip-up Chelsea boots to her mask, she was in all black — though she was on the way to meet a film crew meant to record a transaction across from One World Trade.
When Ms. Magid got to the meeting spot on Vesey Street, at least a half-dozen people were waiting for her. The area was relatively free of traffic, and it seemed like securing the shot of her walking into a bodega and dropping off the coin rolls would be a cinch. But by the time they set up the equipment and the Brink's truck had arrived, at around 11:30 a.m., cars had started spilling out of an adjacent parking garage, complicating the shot. It took more than 40 minutes to capture it.
To read the complete article, see:
Why This Artist Is Paying Bodegas With 120,000 Pennies
Here's some more from the project website.
In Creative Time's most widespread public art commission to date, Jill Magid intercedes in our national economy, responding to issues of value in the throes of COVID-19 with her first major U.S. public art project, entitled Tender. Magid disseminates 120,000 2020-issued pennies, the edges of which she engraved with the appropriated phrase, "THE BODY WAS ALREADY SO FRAGILE." The text evokes both the human body and the body politic—and underscores their interconnection during the coronavirus pandemic.
Magid utilizes pennies—whose newly minted copper surfaces are antimicrobial—as a dispersed monument that will spread discretely across the country, beginning in New York, to explore the contradictions between the dissemination of currency and COVID-19. With an average circulation of 40 years, this project will exist as long as the pennies are in use, and as rumor. In this way, Magid reimagines public art as not a static entity, but rather as a phenomenon that circulates freely among the population; each transaction builds social relations in networks of exchange and interconnectivity.
For more information, see:
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