currency collages by mark wagner currency collages by mark wagner
dec 16, 2013

currency collages by mark wagner

currency collages by mark wagner
image courtesy of mark wagner




using myriad fragments of legitimate monetary bills, american artist mark wagner intricately crafts collages that speak to the cultural, economic, and political roles that currently play in contemporary society. a blade and glue are the artist’s primary tools, as he cuts and tears away morsels of U.S. paper dollars and reorganizes them into complex and ornate visuals. materializing portraits, landscapes, and historical scenes, wagner transforms the icon of capitalism into representational snapshots, from the story of the founding fathers, to mythological tales. asking the observer to question its influence and relationship to art, the assemblages steeped in symbolism and concept simultaneously prove that a single dollar bill is a ripe aesthetic medium. wagner’s work was recently exhibited at miami project art fair, a satellite event coinciding with art basel miami beach 2013.



mark wagner – money is material
video courtesy of the avant/garde diaries



‘toll bridge/ troll bridge or GW on the GWB’, 2013
currency collage on panel
36 x 28 inches
image © designboom



‘toll bridge/ troll bridge or GW on the GWB’ detail
image © designboom



overgrown empire, 2013
currency collage on panel
84 x 28 inches
image © designboom



detail of wagner’s currency collage of the mona lisa
image courtesy of mark wagner



a money portrait to abraham lincoln
image courtesy of mark wagner



detail of a collage from the ‘washington at large’ series



detial view from the ‘washington at large’ series



detail of a lion’s face made from currency


  • He needs to start thinking about the bill as a work of art, this is the extent to which he has benefited from it. He tells himself it is merely material because he is an immature artist who cannot begin purely inside himself. He has to rebound off of another. Unless he says the artist was an inspiration, he has cheated himself and exploited the designer of the bill.

    Ernst Breithaupt says:
  • I think Ernst is being a little too ernest, and also unfair.
    All artists rebound off each other, and the world around them. Be it subliminally, or consciously, we are all influenced by the imagery we see everyday. It is to Wagner’s credit that he has taken an everyday object and created something from it that its 19th century designer(s) never imagined. It is a point of departure.
    This is nothing immature about Wagner’s meticulously executed collages, which elevate the craft of decoupage to an art form, with have some very witty and thought provoking messages woven in.
    The dollar bill is money – First and foremost. Wagner uses it as a material, and has cleverly managed to extract a large and derived palette from the way he cuts and arranges its components. Given the way in which he dissects the notes and uses them to create the gradations/shading, it is unsurprising it becomes a ‘merely a material’ in his mind – It has become an abstract. He does not use the note whole, but fragments, that he himself defines. He is doing far more with it than Warhol did with soup cans labels, and I don’t recall Andy Warhol waxing long and lyrical about the the artist/graphics designer who produced the label he used almost unaltered.
    I believe only the portrait of Washington on the bill can be attributed to an known artist – Gilbert Stuart – and it could be argued that the real art in the note is the way the unknown engraver translated that oil painting into lines of hatching and contours that give the illusion of three dimensions and are also hard for forgers to copy. The design was most likely a collaborative work, and its designers did not regard themselves as artists, but craftsmen.
    The idea that you can berate Wagner for not saying he was inspired by an unknown 19th century engraver or typesetter is farcical. He was inspired by the dollar bill, and its symbolism as one of the mosts widely circulated images every produced. If you are inspired by an object, you are are inspired by the person who created it by default. Since that designer is unknown(?) then to name the note suffices.
    There has been no attempt to hide what these collages are made from. Surely only artists who copy ideas and images from others and then tries to hide/deny their inspiration could be described as exploitative?
    I would politely suggest that is not Wagner who is being immature…

    TheCat says:
  • Mr. Breithaupt needs a refresher in art history or have his eyes examed. As a retired social studies teacher and a now a part-time history professor at our local community college, Mark Wagner’s art is more than a godsend! Countless enlightening discussions on social, political and economic issues begin (and sometimes end) with Mr. Wagner’s art. Despite the design dates of 1957 and 1964 respectively on the current US one dollar bill, I suspect Mr. Wagner’s work will be considered timeless. It has real magic!
    Thank you.

    MHB says:
  • ernst, take it easy.

    Iris Fingerhut says:

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