On Money

by Susan Tallman

November 2019

Among his other virtues, Albrecht Dürer was a meticulous bookkeeper. His travel diaries are chock-a-block with tallies in now arcane currencies—“8 thaler” for wine, “5 white pfs” for a Lutheran tract, “20 stivers” for an elk’s foot—as well as payment in units still perfectly familiar: a St. Eustace to a servant; a Melencolia I to a secretary; an engraved Passion to a goldsmith. Dürer prints, then as now, were valued as masterpieces of art, not just markers of exchange, but Dürer understood that reproducibility brought fungibility with it. Though banknotes would not become common in Europe until centuries later, Dürer’s unchartered accountancy is a sneak preview of the coming codependency of printing, art and money.

This issue of Art in Print is about money—money as a facilitator, a collectible and a designated driver of social and political values. Having no inherent material value, paper currency depends on allusion—connecting what it represents pictorially (heroic raptors, dead statesmen, ponderous monuments) to what it represents notionally (the power of the state, the ability to buy a cup of coffee).

Artists, unsurprisingly, have made the most of it: they have painted its portrait (William Harnett), screenprinted it on canvas (Andy Warhol), and wallpapered the Guggenheim Museum with it to illustrate just how much space a $100,000 art prize takes up in one-dollar bills (Hans-Peter Feldmann). Ray Beldner, interviewed here by Renée Bott, has stitched it together to recreate famous works of art.

No art form, however, more closely overlaps the forms and purposes of money than the print. As Rachel Stella points out in her article on the screenprints of the Coopérative des Malassis, artists’ prints and paper currency share a means of production as well as iconographic strategies. The value of both forms rests on a communal faith in what they signify—the genius of an artist, the solvency of a nation. Hyperinflationary spirals like the one currently destabilizing Venezuela are periodic reminders of what happens when faith dissolves and all that is left is printed paper. The truth that such printed paper may have its own charms is the lesson of David Storey’s article on early 20th-century German emergency money (Notgeld) designed to be hoarded rather than spent.

More abstractly, the effects of money (and its absence) can be charted through multiple essays here: the correlation between real estate values and creative practice was an underlying theme in the exhibition “Pulled in Brooklyn: 26 Printshops, 101 Artists,” reviewed by Faye Hirsch. David Trigg calls attention to the sheer force of will it must have taken to produce the bright, dynamic world of Grosvenor School linocuts in the midst the Great Depression. Our Prix de Print winner, selected by Catherine Bindman, is the June 4 edition of Dan Wood’s Linotype Daily, whose headline points to a presidency in which money appears to be the only metric for everything.

Money is not everything, of course, and elsewhere in these pages Sarah Kirk Hanley surveys Orit Hofshi’s ruminations on land, water and time; Re’al Christian introduces two new etching series by Chris Ofili that encompass natural beauty and human tragedy; Catherine Bindman speaks with curators Nadine Orenstein and Freyda Spira about innovation, experimentation and the origin of etching; and Nicole Meily looks back at Joan Miró’s leap into imaginary form.

Sometimes, however, money does have the last word. This is the final issue of Art in Print. There is, it turns out, such as thing as being too not-for-profit. Almost nine years ago, I approached Julie Bernatz about partnering to create a 21st-century successor to the Print Collector’s Newsletter. This was in many ways a naïvely ambitious goal, but Julie’s clear and graceful design actually superseded our model, and the 52 issues of Art in Print we have published stand as a testament to the talent, generosity and good graces of the writers, artists, advisors, donors, board members, staff, subscribing members—and one wildly over-qualified volunteer editor—who care about this particular corner of the art world.

It isn’t wallpapered with dollar bills or even autograph impressions of Melencolia I, but this corner is one of those remarkable places where people lean in to look closely, and pause to take the measure of what lies before them. We have been lucky to keep such company.