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In 1991, Alberto Echegaray Guevara was an advisor to the Argentinian economic minister who pegged the country’s currency at a 1:1 rate with the US dollar — a move some say contributed to the 2001 economic crisis, significantly devaluing the Argentine peso. Now it seems Echegaray has come full circle. His artistic debut at the arteBA fair last month under the pseudonym Cayman took on inflation as its subject.
“Moneyball: Power Spheres” features 11 Murano crystal orbs, each stuffed with one million shredded, out-of-circulation Argentine pesos. A 12th globe labeled “U.S. Fed” holds USD $1 million. Seen together, they offer a provocative and already outdated illustration of the peso-dollar exchange rate, which has since dropped to 12:1.
Now a CNN analyst, Echegaray told the Buenos Aires Herald that the project first began when he visited the US Treasury Department’s printing and engraving division and saw the translucent tubes that suck up old cash to be destroyed. He eventually acquired two bags filled with $2 million worth of old notes from the Federal Reserve. The Argentine government was less thrilled about the idea of turning pesos into art, so Echegaray was forced to dumpster dive.
“It was very difficult,” he said. “We discovered that they throw the shredded cash into the trash. So we went to the trash can and found the bags, but they were filled with 50-peso and 20-peso bills. We needed 100-peso bills otherwise we’d have to make spheres with two metres in diameter! So we started to follow the garbage trucks and after two months, we had 16 million pesos.”
Echegaray follows in a long line of artists who express themselves through cash. In 1994, the art duo K Foundation burned £1 million. Today, aside from all those people doodling on dollar bills, Mark Wagner creates detailed portraits with crushed currency, Maximo Gonzalez weaves with it, and Sebastian Errazuriz and Thomas McDonell have filled whole galleries with piles of it. But the impetus for “Moneyball” is a wider view of the 2008 financial collapse, as explained last week by Echegaray in an op-ed for The Atlantic titled, “Why I Shredded $1 Million”:
Does what we operate under today in our hyper-technological world serve us? Where has it gotten us and where is it headed? Is it enough? There are signs that it isn’t in the global recession, hyper-inflation in Venezuela, Occupy Wall Street in New York City, the housing crisis in Spain, and beyond. And only through destruction in some sense does real change occur.
He also offers a thoughtful reflection on the role of greed in both the art and financial worlds:
Art is supposed to be a pure, democratic form of self-expression. A piece or installation should reach the masses because it strikes a chord within society and evokes some sort of reflection on a topic relevant to a time and place. But it would be naive to deny that money is a powerful force in determining the scope and characteristics of the art that reaches mass audiences today, even in the age of social media.
The financial system in which we operate is not much different. It is supposed to be a pure reflection of supply and demand for services with value determined by the free market. But instead, we have been reduced to a form of dependence on a system that not only encourages greed, but averts any attempt to hold the dishonest accountable.
Aside from being an impressive sculptural infographic, though, does “Moneyball” strike a chord with viewers? It’s certainly shocking, and this might be enough. Yet, despite the fact that Echegaray emphasizes destruction, his work also points to that which is indestructible. Greed sticks with us. Unsurprisingly, all of Echegaray’s spheres have sold, and he’s already planning to create more.