Arts Penny with the Weight of Its Own Making
posted by April 5 at 16:04 PMon
In a lecture Tuesday night about the antecedents of contemporary sculpture, Seattle Art Museum curator Michael Darling started with Tony Smith’s Die (thankfully not skipping the double-entendre of the title) and soon arrived at the Misdemeanor and Felony series of Jack Daws, a Seattle artist represented by Greg Kucera Gallery. It was a short leap. Smith’s Die looks like a blank black die, as in the singular of dice; it also looks like a nihilistic crushing machine, an obliteration carving itself into space.
I haven’t had the pleasure yet of meeting Daws, or of seeing a solo show of his work. But I first came to know his work in a Twin Towers-inspired photograph he submitted to the 2004 Northwest Biennial at Tacoma Art Museum (remember this one?):
For the image, he constructed the towers out of McDonald’s freedom, er, French fries, and Richard Nichol shot the photo.
His Felony and Misdemeanor series were similarly formally restrained and bracingly topical. In Felony, each 8-inch black box had locked inside it, according to the labels, one of the following substances: cocaine, crack, crystal meth, ecstasy, heroin, or LSD. You can imagine what Misdemeanor carried. Here are five of the six Felony works.
Daws hasn’t shown in town recently, but on the morning of March 29, he put a new sculpture out into the world. It began its trip at LAX airport. It is a penny cast in 14-karat gold and plated in copper. It looks just like any other penny, but weighs about twice as much, is slightly smaller due to the casting process, and does not have a mint mark. It is dated 1970.
Daws spent it somewhere at LAX that morning, after carrying it in his pocket for months in order to give it a patina. It has about $100 of gold in it, he says.
“Whoever finds the sculpture could sell it for the value of the gold, but they might want to hold onto it,” he wrote in a statement. “Daws has more of them, and his Seattle art dealer is selling them. Prices start at $1,000.”
In other words, the circulated penny may well be worth more than $100 and possibly more than $1,000. Wellóworth? Its use value is one cent. Its gallery value is $1,000. Its auction value? Who could say. In today’s art market, plenty of people looking at art see piles of money in its place.
Money as a subject for artists has a long history, at least in part because of the inevitable comparisons between meaningless objects that are then assigned value in a collective way. Warhol’s first silkscreens were dollar bills. He suggested that artists should simply tape the worth of a painting, in dollar bills, on the wall, instead of making the art (I seem to recall an artist recently doing thisócan anyone help me out?). The artist JSG Boggs made a name for himself by drawing precise dollar bills, spending them with people who don’t know what they are (art), and then tipping off collectors if they want to find the bills for themselves. (Yikes! Looks like Boggs may not be doing so well these days.)
I love how Daws’s penny is alone in the world, possibly never to be discovered. Pennies aren’t like dollar bills. They’re barely even money anymore. There’s a great chance that this gold-hearted penny could lie in the street the rest of its life, kicked along until it falls down into a sewer line and rides its way into waste treatment, a piece of old value (gold, pennies) lost, the most valuable artwork of its series, the original, you might say, gone. That seems about right.
UPDATE: The press release said this: “When asked if he was concerned about possible criminal charges for counterfeiting, Daws replied, ‘If they’re looking for criminals they should raid the White House and the Capitol.””
He needn’t have worried, points out Slog commenter Josef:
And, apparently there is no fine for forging a penny. Check this out:
“Manufacturing counterfeit United States currency or altering genuine currency to increase its value is a violation of Title 18, Section 471 of the United States Code and is punishable by a fine or imprisonment for up to 15 years, or both.
Possession of counterfeit United States obligations with fraudulent intent is a violation of Title 18, Section 472 of the United States Code and is punishable by a fine or imprisonment for up to 15 years, or both.
Anyone who manufactures a counterfeit U.S. coin in any denomination above five cents is subject to the same penalties as all other counterfeiters.”
The lowly penny is above the law!