284 - Money, money!

Mark Worden (Standard British accent):

Mark Wagner is an artist who moved to New York from his native Wisconsin a decade ago. He specialises in making collages from dollar bills, which he and his assistants divide into their component parts. They have, for example, just completed a 17-foot piece called “the Statute of Liberty,” which took a year, as they cut 1,121 dollar bills into 81,695 pieces. Mark Wagner explained why he chose the dollar for his work:

Mark Wagner (Standard American accent):
I had been doing collage with cigarette packages, the Camel cigarette package I used for a long time, and I realised that people liked the Camel cigarette package because they recognised it, you know, it’s something they saw on billboards, it’s something they saw on advertisements, if they smoked Camel cigarettes, then they tended to like the collages even better. So I tried to think of what were other like really popular pieces of paper, and the one-dollar bill, that’s something that goes through every American’s hand every day, and not just Americans, it’s used in other countries too, as their currency, practically. So I stick to the one, as opposed to other bills, because it’s cheaper! It costs one dollar for this piece of paper, instead of five dollars. I did cut up a 100-dollar bill once because I wanted Benjamin Franklin’s face, but, yeah, mostly it’s just one. And the one-dollar bill… that’s the cliché: you say, “the almighty dollar,” you don’t say “the almighty five dollars.” Also, the design of the bills, the design of the one-dollar bill, has been the same here for 60 or 70 years, but all of the other, larger denominations have been redesigned, like now the portraits are bigger, they look more modern, rather than classic, they’ve got less decoration on the other bills, but the one-dollar bill, it’s still got a lot of sort of more baroque details to it.

He was then asked to describe his favourite piece of art:

Mark Wagner:
I’d like the figures of George Washington the most, probably. He’s an interesting character, I like him historically, but I like that people don’t know all that much about him, specifically, so I’ll take his head and dress him up in different costumes, make him involved in different activities, oftentimes interacting with himself, other George Washingtons. I like to take… as the father of America, to sort of turn him into the everyman… as just a character that dresses up in a whole bunch of different ways, in different collages. So I’ve depicted him as gardners, and workers, depicted him on lunch breaks, as businessman carrying attachés, or reading the newspaper. I like that he can be sort of continuous, as a character from one collage to the next, but playing very different roles in different collages.

In conclusion, we asked Mark Wagner whether his work was ironic:

Mark Wagner:
Certainly, it’s ironic and I enjoy the irony in it, I like that I have to destroy money in order to make money, I like that I actually pay other people to cut up money for me, I like that destroying money is actually a cheap thing to do, like if I were to buy paints and paint these same images, I would easily be spending much more money on paint than I do on the money that I’m cutting up. I like that I’m destroying money and then selling the destroyed money to people who have a lot of money. I like the different shades of irony that are involved in it.

(Mark Wagner was talking to Lorenza Cerbini)