Here's One: Can "Flashing Money" Ever Be Art?
Artist Andrew Jeffrey Wright investigates the once and future trend.
All images courtesy of the artist and The Hole
We have (thankfully) passed the awkward point in time where flashing your money on Facebook or Myspace was a ubiquitous phenomenon, but the present doesn’t erase embarrassing history. Those pictures of your now-investment banker cousin wearing a Grateful Dead shirt and a ski mask while holding a stack of twenties are still lodged somewhere in the internet’s endless archive. Yet, at least some good has come out of this cultural mishap; the trend has been reborn in artist Andrew Jeffrey Wright's photographic body of work Andrew Jeffrey Wright’s Money, now on view at The Hole.
The solo exhibition consists of a series of photographs lined in a row along the gallery’s walls, each presenting a uniquely staged money-flashing tableau by Wright. Some of these are vaguely familiar reinterpretations of the ‘genre,’ like Wright posing in his apartment wearing a bandana and holding a knife, with a stack of money forming a semi-circle underneath him. Yet other scenes are completely foreign: a baby-sized ski suit filled to the brim with money; a cat next to three dated telephones and a book on birds with a stack of 100s and 20s nearby; a note written “Reserved for Masturbation” accompanied by approximately $474.
But these works are more than just a rehashing of an old and unpleasant social media trend; Wright started this project in the 90’s when this sort of imagery was less universal: “In the late 90s I was working at a camera shop in a section of Philadelphia called University City. I worked in the lab printing photos, and this is in the era when most of us were on the 'net, but it wasn’t like it is today where we are privy to so many private images, so seeing all these personal images were uncommon,” he explains to The Creators Project.
“I noticed people documenting their collections. Sorority girls posing by their collection of empty bottles of alcohol which they drank that night, drug dealers showing off their guns, money, and drugs, little kids posing with all their birthday cash... I was intrigued by the boldness of these people taking photos of themselves with weapons, money, and drugs. The photos told a pretty intense one frame story; I get money by selling drugs and I protect my money, drugs, and self with these weapons. I have never done drugs and I’m a pacifist so these images left a mark,” adds Wright.
Inspired by this bizarre photographic trend that continued publically in later years through social media, Wright began his own series of money-flashing images. At the start of the series, the photographs were mostly meant as character art, but an event in his personal life shifted the direction of the project and ultimately added a new layer of purpose: “In the 2000s the project took on a new form when my bank account was seized twice, and then I was like, no more bank account for me. The photographs in the show represent the period I didn’t have a bank account and all the money I had in the world at that time is in those photographs. It became a diary of my finances and life,” Wright unveils.
Wright has recently reentered the banking system and ultimately concluded the project, but the artistic fruits of his temporarily off-the-grid lifestyle will be on view at The Hole until September 4th.