Paper Money

Fitzwilliam Museum opens new exhibit on money messages

Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, England, offers a new exhibit, “Defaced! Money, Conflict, Protest,” that features notes and coins that have been altered to present political messages.

Images courtesy of Fitzwilliam Museum.

The Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, England, is the first stop for an exhibition, “Defaced! Money, Conflict, Protest” that is a look at how currency has been artistically altered over the years as a means of social commentary.

The Fitzwilliam calls it the “first major exhibition to present a world history of protest through currencies that have been mutilated as cries of anger, injustice or despair from the last 250 years.” It includes an important section exploring the role of the individual in protesting for rights and representation.

It showcases a new collection of defaced bank notes and coins acquired for the museum by curator Richard Kelleher. One of the pieces garnering headlines is by Boo Whorlow, an artist who reworked a well-known defaced £10 Bank of England note by Banksy with Diana, Princess of Wales. In Whorlow’s version, Prince Harry replaces the queen on the obverse and Meghan Markle is on the reverse of a Bank of Canada $10 note along with the message “Trust No Press.”

An overtly satirical fuchsia $1 Federal Reserve note by the artist Sean Kushner has a cartoonish Donald Trump, but called “Frump” by the artist, in Washington’s place on the face saying, “Maybe bae will buy me a wall.” To the right is a small head of Vladimir Putin superimposed over the value ONE. “Bae” is an acronym for “before anyone else,” and is a slang term for one’s significant other or an object of affection.

Another piece is a fabricated $20 Federal Reserve note depicting Harriet Tubman.

Among contemporary works are a massive $100 bill by J.S.G. Boggs and others by Banksy and kennardphillipps, a collaboration between Peter Kennard and Cat Phillipps since 2002 that creates art in response to the invasion of Iraq.

A set of four satirical notes by Wefail is called “Four Horsemen” and features English Tory luminaries Theresa May, Jacob Rees-Mogg, Boris Johnson and Margaret Thatcher. Another by Wefail satirizes the invasion of Iraq in 2003 by superimposing UK Prime Minister Tony Blair’s head over Saddam Hussain’s on an Iraqi bank note.

Earlier pieces are from radicals of the 19th and early 20th century, like Thomas Spence, who was one of the leading revolutionaries of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. He advocated for common ownership of land and democratic equality of the sexes.

The exhibition has over a hundred objects. Most have never been displayed before, and are juxtaposed with loans from museums and private collections.

The catalog of the collection, “Defaced! Money, Conflict, Protest,” edited by Richard Kelleher, is available as of October 2022. It is 168 pages in paperback, 11 inches by 9.4 inches, with more than 160 color illustrations. Its ISBN is 978-1-913645-33-5.

The show will run from Oct. 11, 2022, to Jan. 8, 2023, at the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge. It will reopen in July 2023 at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto.

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