16 November–20 December 2012
Colombian artist Santiago Montoya opens one of the most eagerly awaited exhibitions, ‘The Great Swindle’, at Halcyon Gallery’s New Bond Street space, Mayfair, on 16 November 2012.
Drawing upon political history, Montoya uses such materials as bank-notes and food coupons to create works that question our collective ideals and aspirations, reflecting upon past dreams of nations and the seeming disconnect of the realities that follow.
Embarking upon ‘The Great Swindle’ series before the financial crisis really took hold of the world, Montoya saw bank-notes as ready-made painted surfaces, as snapshots of time, theatres in which political propaganda and historic events play out. Yet these paintings come with their own pre-assigned commercial value which forms the basis of all international trade, relations and infrastructure, resulting in artwork saturated with layers of meaning.
The inescapable connotation of money is evident in the piece Money Talks. Here, looking at the tensions within international trade, Montoya brings together the currencies of eastern and western superpowers with bank-notes from China and the United States of America. Montoya explains, ‘While China seeks security in the US dollar, the US dollar is ever more dependent on China’s economic growth. Mao looks west; Washington looks east.’
Aware that the same key symbols have been appropriated by different nations through history, Montoya further explores cross-cultural referencing with his use of repeated icons (boats, dollar symbols and stars) in series such as ‘Wishing Stars’. While a white star can suggest the American Revolution, a red star resonates with communism, each case acting as an index for a collective ethos. In the ‘Wishing Stars’ series, a DC3 plane is emblazoned as a symbol of hope and freedom upon a Chinese 2-fen food coupon. Used during rationing as part of Mao’s regime, the coupon belies the innocence in the title of the work, leading us to review what it is we are wishing for and the potential results of such idealism. The clichéd titles of Montoya’s work add an element of humour to the exhibition, making the often complex subject matter more accessible, looking to bring everyone into the conversation and encourage debate. The piece Fish and Ships, an installation of 30 fishing boats gathered into a net, uses this humour as an invitation for the viewer to speculate upon themes of mass consumption and production.
With observation as opposed to judgment, Montoya opens up discussion for a myriad of topics surrounding systems of value and how these systems shape us as individuals, nations and even as a global race. Through using works as aesthetic carriers for these ideas he leads us to explore the notions of worth and wealth creation, building an exhibition in which appearance and concept are allowed to bear equal weight.