Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Figuring Exchange and the art of Máximo González

By IMTFI research assistant Robbie Kett

On Monday, October 14, IMTFI and the Claire Trevor School of the Arts had the pleasure of hosting artist Máximo González at the opening of our exhibition Figuring Exchange: Art and Money. Born in Argentina, González relocated to Mexico City in 2003 where he has developed an artistic practice that centers on the collection and transformation of decommissioned money. In his presentation with partner and collaborator Ivan Buenader on Monday, González showed a wide range of pieces that draw upon the techniques of craft and conceptual art to paint, cut, weave, and delicately assemble discarded bills and coins. These various techniques yield equally diverse results. González's money pieces include figurative murals of debauched historical figures and fantastic machines that ravage landscapes; abstract weavings and collages that deconstruct money’s figurative powers; and performance pieces that enact the ambiguities of value and exchange.

The exhibition will run at UCI until Friday. See below for more details.

Photos of the exhibition and presentation can be seen here.

I first met González and Buenader while conducting fieldwork for my dissertation in Mexico City. A number of visits to their studio housed in a former convent in Mexico City’s colonial center offered an opportunity to view a wide range of González’s work and to witness the fastidious labor that goes into this delicate practice. The studio was full of bags of shredded bills, tables covered with finely cut money, and walls hidden by sections of massive installations.

The two were in Los Angeles this month to develop an installation at UCLA’s Fowler Museum for the museum’s fiftieth anniversary. González’s dizzying and colorful Walk among Worlds - a tangle of inflated globes that consume the museum’s courtyard and jut out of rooflines and arches - can be seen there through November 3. An invitation to give a talk at IMTFI while the two were in Southern California quickly grew into a small exhibition that would tackle the intersections of art and money more broadly as pieces were offered up by the artist, collectors, UCI faculty, and IMTFI’s director, Bill Maurer.

"Money is always made and processes of making
are inevitably material and aesthetic."

Figuring Exchange features two major installations by González, as well as art and artifacts drawn from IMTFI’s collection and from a number of private collections. These objects range from shell valuables, paper bills, and trade beads to trompe l’oeil paintings and political cartoons. Through this eclectic collection, the exhibition aims to present a number of insights about money that are common in the work of IMTFI researchers: money is always made and processes of making are inevitably material and aesthetic; artists’ representations of money offer a useful means of thinking about the questions of representationalism inherent in money’s own functioning; and money - as a suite of material objects and practices - is always open to its own transformation, whether through the artist’s manipulations or the daily practices of users.

In bringing together the work of artists like González and some of the mundane artifacts of daily payment and practice included in the exhibition, I hope that Figuring Exchange can bridge conversations about money and its meanings in art and the social sciences. Seeing the excitement on the faces of researchers as they looked at González’s work, I think this might have started on Monday night.


Figuring Exchange: Art and Money runs until October 25. The exhibit is open from 2-6pm in the Contemporary Arts Center Outreach Gallery, Room 3100A in the Claire Trevor School of the Arts at the University of California Irvine. Parking is available at the Mesa Parking Structure.

Robert Kett is curator of Figuring Exchange, a research assistant at IMTFI, and a doctoral candidate in anthropology at UC-Irvine.

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