On 16 February 2016, contemporary Colombian artist, Santiago Montoya, presented Money Talks at Halcyon Gallery, London. This brand new body of work is part of an ongoing exploration into currency, history and socio-political issues. Combining the pop vocabulary of Warhol and a multitude of international banknotes, Montoya uses the world’s leading currencies as his aesthetic arena.
‘Aristotle would be amazed. Santiago made something out of nothing – because he turned a bill of exchange into an object of art,’ Miguel Palacios, Professor of Finance, Vanderbilt University.
Montoya began working with currency as his medium of choice in 2007 – viewing paper currency as ready-made works of art, Montoya set about cutting, stretching and altering the bills to push the boundaries of art in both a new and unexpected way. Montoya reinterprets paper currency as both a canvas as well as a raw material, exploring the added value beyond its very surface.
The aesthetic aspect of the artwork is created by manipulating multiple international currencies and their patterns to create an original visual language. Having only previously worked with the dollar motif, an iconic symbol of capitalist desire, Montoya now introduces currencies such as the pound, yuan, rupee and euro. The use of these bank notes alongside cliché titles add an element of humour to Montoya’s works, ensuring the often complex subject matter is more accessible and encouraging lively conversation and debate.
By transforming the currency in a defamiliarising way, Montoya explores the multifaceted and multi-layered economic system. With the infinite repetition of the bills, a sense of both wonder and anguish arises which also reflects the emotions relating to the frailty and limited understanding of the financial system. Montoya expands upon monetary ethics and in doing so, highlights capitalism’s global force.
Montoya’s use of money as an artistic medium, also opens a dialogue on the void between state propaganda and reality itself. A plethora of national ideas and socio-political ideologies are embedded in banknotes through their design and iconography and by bringing these scenes to the forefront, Montoya raises questions about systems of value and how they shape individuals and nations.