In its desire to make visible the financial underpinnings of an exhibition at the Guggenheim, the installation is initially reminiscent of Hans Haacke, the artist who famously, and in the same museum, tried to put on display, for his solo show, photographs of all 142 slum apartment buildings owned by a landlord who had personal and institutional connections to the museum. Mr. Haacke’s piece, Shapolsky et al., Manhattan Real Estate Holdings, a Real Time Social System, as of May 1, 1971 (1971), was never displayed, however, and the curator responsible was fired.
Mr. Feldmann’s is a softer-focus attempt than Mr. Haacke’s to confront the limits and economic conditions under which the exhibition is taking place. In this way it is more reminiscent of Urs Fischer’s 2007 installation at Gavin Brown’s Enterprise, You, which excavated the gallery floor to a depth of eight feet. Both Mr. Feldmann’s and Mr. Fischer’s works aim at creating the visual effect of transparency; both ultimately do so not as a critique of the exhibition environment but to create a novel phenomenological viewing experience for the spectator.
Finally, like the late Sigmar Polke, Mr. Feldmann’s most obvious peer, Mr. Feldmann was born in Düsseldorf in 1941, and there is a taste of Kunstakademie Düsseldorf professor Joseph Beuys’s love for the magic of materials in this display of dollars. There is also some of the fascination Polke bore for Western capitalism.
What will happen to the piece? One guard thought Mr. Feldmann might donate it to the museum. Another guard said it was a loan from a bank that Hugo Boss helped the artist co-sign, and that the bills—each bearing a single nail hole—would go back to the bank and then into circulation after the installation came down. For some reason no one assumed Mr. Feldmann would keep the money, although a New York Times article specifies that the bills belong to the artist.
Assistant curator Katherine Brinson provides the usual explanatory apparatus to help us apprehend the work’s meaning: we are told that the artist was born in 1941, in Düsseldorf, that he often works in unlimited editions, that Mr. Feldmann resists the art world’s commercial structures and comments more generally on capitalism; that he didn’t make work at all in the 1980s.
But none of this background really explains the effect of the installation, or the reactions of the people who visit it, which—as worn as the phrase may be—are priceless.