dolla dolla bill y'all, or, Hans-Peter Feldmann: some thoughts and a lot of questions.
Hans-Peter Feldmann, installation view of The Hugo Boss Prize 2011: Hans-Peter Feldmann, 2011 (source)
Since 1996, the Guggenheim Museum has been giving out the Hugo Boss Award every other year to an artist working anywhere in the world in any media. Along with the prestige of the award, the recipient is granted a show and a bit of pocket change—$100,000.* Rather than deposit the check into his savings, 2010 winner Hans-Peter Feldmann turned the prize winnings into his exhibition. In a Scrooge McDuck move, he** covered every wall surface of a Guggenheim gallery with 100,00 one-dollar bills.
Although Feldmann’s work may seem a wee bit sensational (which it is), it in many ways relates to his generally understated line of work. The German artist is known for his methodical collecting, ordering, and representing, with a keen focus on the parts of a whole. In One Pound Strawberries, Feldmann did what the title suggests: he bought a pound of strawberries and subsequently photographed each fruit. Arranging the photos in the proverbial grid of Minimalist and conceptual art, Feldmann asks us to consider such mundane objects as unique.
Hans-Peter Feldmann, One Pound Strawberries, 2004 (source)
Similarly, for the Hugo Boss Prize, the artist took a symbol of the everyday (albeit much more loaded than a strawberry) and presented it methodically. He broke up the 100k into the smallest dollar unit possible. A computer-generated algorithm determined how to arrange the banknotes in precise rows and columns so that no wall remain uncovered and no bill remain unhung. (Then, in true conceptual art fashion, he sat back and had a gazillion art handlers pin up the gazillion dollars.)
And like his earlier work, the Hugo Boss installation plays into his “history of resisting the art world’s commercial structures,” or so the Guggenheim claims. Dollar bills are, after all, just cotton-and-linen sheets with no inherent worth until society imbues them with monetary value. By plastering them on the wall and having a guard tell you not to rip them down, the banknotes are useless.
But can Feldmann truly avoid commodification? I’m starting to think that his project is possibly the greatest investment of all. Reportedly, at the exhibition’s conclusion, he*** will remove the banknotes and keep them for himself. He has both gained 100k AND padded his CV, not without a shitload of art world exposure.
* Here’s a bit of trivia for you: along with the the whopping sum of cash, Hugo Boss winners also receive a tetrahedral trophy.
Fake Epilogue, July 23, 2011:
As I recently experienced this work during a professional development workshop in museum education, it is only fitting that I put on my Museum Educator Hat* to approach this work now. That is, I will ask a lot of questions so we can speculate together on how it could have been different.
How do you think this work exists—as physical objects (individual dollar bills) or concept (instructions on what and where to hang)? Would it have been more of an investment to sell the work? Would a collector receive the original 100k in one dollar bills? I’d be pretty tickled if he pulled a Lewitt and just handed the owner a $100,000 check with the memo line reading “cash into dollar bills and use as wallpaper.”
*It’s purple and sparkly and covered with rainbows and question marks
The Hugo Boss Prize 2011: Hans-Peter Feldmann is on view at the Guggenheim Museum in New York until November 2, 2011.