Today we unveiled The First $100,000 I Ever Made, a new work created by artist John Baldessari. The work features a $100,000 bill enlarged to cover the 25-by-75 foot billboard next to the High Line at West 18th Street. This is the first work presented in a newly launched series called HIGH LINE BILLBOARD.
We asked Cecilia Alemani, Curator and Director of High Line Art at Friends of the High Line, to answer some questions about the new work.
Who is John Baldessari?
John Baldessari is a legendary artist, one of America’s most important and influential figures, a seminal figure in the conceptual art movement, and an inspiration to generations of younger artists. HIGH LINE BILLBOARD presents an extraordinary opportunity for art to generate conversation, and that is why I am thrilled to launch the series with this new work by John Baldessari. One of his first works recited the phrase “I Will Not Make Any More Boring Art,” and for more than 40 years, Baldessari has continued to surprise us. Throughout his career, he has explored language and popular culture, mixing references to cinema and advertising. I invited Baldessari to conceive the first work for HIGH LINE BILLBOARD as it seemed a fitting space for him to present a special commission in New York City.
Why did you choose this artwork for the billboard?
Actually, I invited him to create a new, site specific work for High Line Art, and this is the artwork that he conceived.
The artwork consists of a giant $100,000 bill. Does such a thing really exist?
The $100,000 bill holds the record as the highest denomination currency ever issued by the United States, and it plays a special role in the history of currency in this country. For a three-week period spanning 1934 and 1935, in the throes of the Great Depression, the United States government printed 42,000 of these bills and released them as gold certificates to Federal Reserve Banks that had equal amounts of gold in the Treasury. The bills were never circulated among the general public, and in the 1960s, the government recalled the bills following advances in wire transfer technology. Most of the bills were destroyed, but some relics remain at branches of the Federal Reserve and the Smithsonian Museum.
Who is the President featured on the bill?
The $100,000 bill carries an image of Woodrow Wilson (1856 – 1924), the 28th President of the United States, whose administration oversaw major economic reform and the creation of the United States income tax. He was President from 1913 to 1921.
How much would $100,000 be worth in today’s dollars?
One hundred thousand dollars in 1934 would be worth $1,635,664.18 today. All 42,000 notes would fit in four standard 4” deep briefcases and would be worth $4.2 billion in 1934 dollars, or around $68.7 billion in today’s dollars.
The artwork is titled The First $100,000 I Ever Made. What is the artist trying to tell us?
The artwork does not have one single message; it is open to interpretation. With its larger-than-life proportion, the work can be viewed in many ways: a photo opportunity for High Line visitors, a commentary on the world’s financial situation, an object of desire, or something else entirely. Throughout his career, Baldessari has taught us that art is precisely everything that we do not expect it to be. In this way, the artwork is complete once people react to it.
This is not the first artwork to be presented on this billboard. Can you explain?
The billboard is an iconic feature found in urban landscapes in the United States. The myth and beauty of our cities were created by the billboards that popped up among the skyscrapers. This particular billboard is an interesting format for artists, especially as it relates to the beauty of the High Line. Thanks to the generous support of Edison Properties, the owner of the property on which the billboard stands, we have been able to use the billboard as a space to feature a series of three artworks that would normally be found only in museums or galleries.
My predecessor, Lauren Ross, first used the billboard to present a new work by Demetrius Oliver, a multimedia artist based in Manhattan. Lauren left the organization in June to take a new position, and in her absence, Friends of the High Line invited the photographer, Joel Sternfeld, to curate a series of photographic installations on the billboard over the summer. Long before the High Line was open as a public park, Joel helped Joshua David and Robert Hammond capture the wild landscape that grew up between the railroad tracks on the High Line when the trains stopped running. For the billboard, Joel selected images by two of his favorite photographers: Robert Adams and Darren Almond. This new work by Baldessari is the first of three in a new series called HIGH LINE BILLBOARD. We are planning to invite two other artists to conceive works for the billboard in 2012
Can you talk about the similarities and differences between Baldessari’s work and the others?
Whether it is covered with art or advertising, this particular billboard serves as a visual anchor at the High Line. Over the summer, it presented images of striking landscapes that stood in direct contrast to the High Line and the frenetic energy along 10th Avenue. In this way, the images represented a means of escape. Each took us to a magical place, and the larger-than-life proportions of the billboard help reinforce this feeling. This new work by Baldessari takes a similar approach to public engagement. Like the photographs by Sternfeld, Adams, and Almond, the image generates conversation, but unlike the other artworks, Baldessari’s piece points our attention to current events. The world’s economy and New York’s role in it are at the top of everyone’s minds. It is interesting that a picture of money invokes thoughts about government, the recession, and the public protests. It means that the art is serving its purpose: it is a mirror of our dreams and anxieties.
Baldessari’s The First $100,000 I Ever Made is the first of three works presented in a newly launched series called HIGH LINE BILLBOARD. The piece will remain on view until Friday, December 30, 2011.