Money Talks: 6 Artists Creating Art About Money
Art has always been a source of social commentary, and nothing screams critique more than the human relationship with money. From the original Christian artists discussing greed as a sin, to the contemporary artists exploring capitalist culture, money was and continues to be a focal point of many artworks. But what makes it such a compelling subject, and which artists have made names for themselves by creating Money Art?
Why Do Artists Love Creating Art About Money?
Put simply, money is a common subject of artwork because art is a vital part of the political and sociological discourse, and the economy is at the center of it all. As the characters from Cabaret said, “money makes the world go round”. Wealth gaps, workers’ exploitation and rising levels of homelessness and unemployment are all major social issues that have been the catalyst for mass movements around the globe. It’s only natural that artists are affected by and wish to comment on these issues.
What’s more, art is intrinsically connected to money and fame. The image of the starving artist à la Van Gogh is often contrasted with the contemporary, hipster, hedonistic art star who enjoys the glamor of celebrity and excessive wealth. It can be difficult to survive as an artist unless you’re one of the few who manage to build ties with the elite and live the rich and famous lifestyle. After all, art is a form of cultural capital that’s often synonymous with financial capital. This paradoxical nature means artists often explore not just the role of money in society, but also their personal contribution. As Damien Hirst once said: “Art is the most fabulous currency.”
Which Artists Create Art About Money?
The pseudonym of Alec Monopoly alone clearly demonstrates his complicated relationship with money. The artist has long commented on wealth by utilizing Mr. Monopoly as a symbol within his work, inspired to incorporate the figure following the major bank bailouts after the 2008 financial crisis.
Other characters portrayed — including Scrooge McDuck, Richie Rich, and Mr. Burns — also symbolize the excess and capitalism prevalent in popular culture. And like many other artists in the pop art sphere, Monopoly has transformed his art into direct consumer commodities, such as the Birkin bag he created for Khloe Kardashian, estimated at $60,000-$100,000.
In 2018, anonymous street artist Banksy made headlines when he shredded his famous Girl With Balloon moments after it sold at auction for over $1 million. It was then renamed Love is in the Bin, and this stunt was yet another example of Banksy showing his disdain for capitalism, greed and the commodification of the art industry. In a paradoxical yet poignant turn of events, the shredded artwork is now worth even more than it was before. More recently, Banksy’s 2006 piece Morons — a print of a crowded auction room, graced with the words “I can’t believe you morons actually buy this” — was bought by a blockchain firm for $95,000, burnt and then sold as an NFT for $380,000.
However, Banksy’s most famous interaction with money in his art is Di-Faced Tenner, a counterfeit £10 note with Princess Diana’s face replacing the Queen’s. These were created as part of an art stunt where he released the fake money at Notting Hill Carnival and the Reading Festival in the UK, where some attendees successfully used them as currency.
Tyler Shields always conveys controversial messages through his photographs, and much of his work deals with the fragility of celebrity and the corruption that comes with the lifestyle of the rich and the famous.
He frequently incorporates luxury products in his images, most famously the Birkin bag, which he has presented alongside dangerous wild animals like alligators and pythons. Shields is also known for burning designer accessories and photographing successful models and actresses like Emma Roberts with wads of cash. Perhaps his most literal work is Money Kills, depicting stacks of burning dollar bills marked with those words in a blood-like substance.
Andy Warhol was well known for his dealings with money both in his art and life. He famously said that if you’re going to buy a $200,000 painting, “you should take that money, tie it up, and hang it on the wall. Then when someone visited you, the first thing they would see is the money on the wall”. Warhol came from a poor family, and was never ashamed of his love — some would say, fetishization — of money.
From his famous Dollar Bill series in the early 1960s, which he once described as painting “the thing he loves most”, to his vibrant 1981 series of dollar signs, Warhol’s art always dealt with the intersection of creativity and wealth, effectively seeing himself as a money press.
From one money lover to another, Mister E’s bright and vivid replicas of cash typify his approach to money, asserting that capitalism and wealth are not necessarily symbols of corruption as they can also be a force for good. Mister E had to stop working as a contractor after the financial crash of 2008. This made him realize just how powerful money is and he decided to take a step back from the horror of the crash and create his own money, naming the series of colorfully striking bills Benny Jr. There have been many iterations since, such as Summer Sunset Benny.
In spite of the devastating impact of the stock market crash, for him, money is not the root of all evil. It is power. And you can do a lot of bad with power, but also good. His art is all about seeing money as a symbol of hope rather than despair.
With his vibrant palette, David LaChapelle takes the real into the surreal with his photography. His series of ‘Negative Currencies’, which shows dollars, euros and Israeli shekels as negative photographic film, expose both sides of the bills. The colors are similar to the hues of gems, and on his website, LaChapelle describes them as “artistic seismographs” — instruments used to detect and record earthquakes — anticipating and following the drama of the global financial world. “While both beautiful and luminous, each currency provokes speculation for the time we live in.”