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The End of the Rainbow, 1$ bills, newspaper, recycled paper, 2011.

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“The major concern of the epoche – the economy – is to today’s art what the nude, the landscape, or the myth of the new were in their time to neoclassicism, impressionism, and the avant-garde: both a motivator of creativity and a theme to the taste of the moment”.   Paul Ardenne
A pile of money, several hundred stacks of one-dollar bills wrapped with elastic bands scattered on the floor, George Washington’s dollar-green face reproduced hundreds of times, declaring that this is legal tender of The United States… “The End of the Rainbow”, a work presented by Ciprian Homorodean for the first edition of Dublin Contemporary, relies on accumulation and repetition to determine its form, on quantity to create its effect. If we go beyond the surface, however, its discourse will lead us elsewhere, far from purely aesthetic considerations immanent to art. In times of economic turmoil, a pile of money may appear as a blunt statement signifying money’s resemblance to a load of shit, a material the artists has previously used to make art. It could also stand for the excessive appetite for wealth that has catapulted us into today’s financial dire straits. Unless of course, like in the old proverb about glitter and gold, it turns out that most of the bills are just an imitation. In fact, the real dollars are only a façade; behind them, creating the volume, there’s just a lot of old paper, cut out to match the one-dollar bill’s shape. What does this “money” represent then? And, more important, what is its worth?Before attempting to tackle these questions, we might wish to briefly address the notion of money. Money has been around for thousands of years, circulating as metallic coins, paper currency, and, more recently, plastic credit cards. We earn it, we spend it, we sometimes save it, and we usually try not to waste it. Some love it, some loathe it, while others just don’t care to think about it… Whatever our relationship to money, and even if most of us don’t fully grasp the economic concepts behind it, it weighs heavily in our lives. But what, exactly, is money? Economists, sociologists, anthropologists, and philosophers, advocating various theories, have long debated about its origins and nature without providing straightforward answers. Some earlier economics textbooks offered a shortcut approach, focusing principally on its role: “Money is a matter of functions four, a medium, a measure, a standard, a store”. Undeniably, in a monetized economy, the significance of money is clearly bound to the functions it performs. This old mnemonic rhyme, however, does not always hold true, as the current financial crisis demonstrates, and it certainly does not explain how money gets its value. We will not discuss here the mechanisms through which coins, bills and bank deposits come to represent different values, but it is worthwhile to recall that until 1971, when ex-president Nixon ended the Bretton Woods system, the value of currency was determined by its relationship to precious metals, such as gold and silver. Once currency was no longer backed by a “gold standard”, money relied only on regulation and faith. Fiat money, as it is designated (from the Latin Fiat “Let it be done”), is the norm today, a currency that has no intrinsic use value but, because it is granted the status of legal tender, acquires an exchange value. The value of money is thus, in part, a matter of convention and trust. So is, in a way, the value of art.In its own way, “The End of the Rainbow” presents us with faith money, counting on the illusion it engenders. The title itself evokes the legendary pot of gold, believed by some to be kept by mythical leprechauns at this inexistent, or at least unapproachable, location. The artist acknowledges this Irish reference; after all, he conceived the work with Dublin Contemporary in mind, a “low budget, high-intensity” exhibition, according to the organizers, presented as the “Documenta of the poor”. Considering the very restricted budget that curators Jota Castro and Christian Viveros-Faune worked with (less than a million Euros for a large-scale international program including over 100 artists), we cannot help but wonder if the fake cash is not, in some way, the artist’s symbolic contribution to the fragile economy of the venture. This might be so, but there is another, more personal source of inspiration.

Based on a series of incidents that took place in the early 1990’s in Romania, at the end of the Ceausescu regime, “The End of the Rainbow” examines the volatile nature of currency and the illusory quality of wealth, demonstrating just how unpredictable money and value can be. The stacks of false money are in fact a hyperbolic version of the ones that were once handed to Ioan Simonea, the artist’s grandfather. A self-made man, Ioan Simonea had worked hard all his life, accumulating a small yet sizeable fortune. Unfamiliar with capitalistic profit seeking money placement, he thought it best to keep his savings safely at home. In December 1989, as Romania awakened to new freedoms, privatization, and capitalist markets, he had saved enough Lei to buy himself a brand new house.The transition to capitalism held a few nasty surprises, however, bringing unforeseen ailments, such as devastating hyperinflation and uncontrolled devaluation. When Ioan Simonea saw his savings start to literally vanish into thin air (inflation rates began climbing to the hundreds in the early 1990’s, reaching 256% in 1993), he did what most people in his situation would do: to avoid further losses in the rapidly degenerating economy, the unreliable Lei (official Romanian currency) had to be converted in the black market. The American money seemed a sure way to get to the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Dollars for sale, cheaper, safer, more valuable dollars… Unfortunately, the “bisnitar”, unscrupulous money dealers, had already taken over the currency exchange markets. They did offer more than the official rate, but, taking advantage of the illegal nature of the transaction, they rushed the unsuspecting “customer” into their merciless scam. Operating very quickly, with the knack of street-fair magicians, they counted the real money while replacing it with the fake. Upon arriving at home, when he went to count his new money, Ioan Simonea discovered with shock that his life-long savings were forever gone, and with it, his dreams. In just a few minutes, the money had been irreparably transformed into worthless packs of paper, evenly cut newspaper, shrewdly camouflaged under a derisory amount of US dollars.

Is “The End of the Rainbow” some sort of memento to honor the victim of this infamous money scam? The story, in any case, offers a good lesson on the interconnectedness of money’s fluctuating value and the transiency of dreams. But what does this work have to say about art? Considered as visual art object, in other words at its most basic level, it could be approached as a schematic representation of today’s economic landscape, gathering, beneath the real dollars, a large variety of samples generated by the economic activity of our times: daily newspapers, real-estate brochures, fast-food advertising and other commercial flyers, free publications for urban commuters, discarded art-fair catalogues… The bulk of fake cash offers a compendium of our economy’s printed output, skillfully using the parts to represent the whole. If, on the other hand, we approach the work from a more conceptual perspective, some obvious parallels between art and money come to mind. For one, art, like money, is a symbol of economic value, and, as is the case with money, its economic value is a question of attribution, endorsement, and faith. Beyond these observations, however, which are only relevant to the art market, other more immaterial convergences of art and money come to light, suggesting that money, and its larger framework, the economy, have integrated the vocabulary of art: Duchamp’s “Tzanck Ckeque”, Beuy’s formula “Kunst=Kapital”, and Warhol’s statement “Making money is art” to mention but a few, and not the least, offer art-historical evidence of this fact. Without overstating the truth, it could be said that in today’s art world, money is measured in terms of both its economic value and its potential for generating sense.

Artists have been making art with money for a long time, which is not the same as making money with art. Whatever the combination, pairing the two never fails to raise some controversy, and occasionally some important considerations. Especially when the notion of work is associated to the equation, reviving the old question about the nature of the artist’s profession. Some might argue that if art is work and work earns money, then artists should get paid. In any case, the ideal for most artists would be to make a living with their work. Not all artists make money however, and they only get paid when they sell. Ciprian Homorodean overrides the question by combining the money and the work. This is also where the value of an artwork resides, in its intention. Once “The End of the Rainbow” is sold, the artist will have succeeded a most intricate exchange, making the money into art and back into money again.

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The End of the Rainbow (detail), 1$ bills, newspaper, recycled paper, 2011.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]