“I wrote a song today, it’s looking good, it’s looking great,
But I want to do it just for Mammon.
Not a word about love, wickedness, or politics
Or anything else, no extra meanings.”
Money has ruled the world ever since someone came up with the simple idea to have an artifact such as a piece of metal or scrap of paper (and now an electronic mark) bestow real value upon things, relationships, and other areas of our lives.
A crisis (the word of the year), meaning an extraordinary situation that requires careful action on the part of markets, nations, and citizens, is the perfect context for increasingly peculiar musings on the subject of money, living without it, and coping with the devaluation of that which, up until recently, had value. We hate money, and yet we love it so much. It’s not the most important thing, but our desire for it sometimes pushes us to commit vile and insane acts. Money doesn’t make the man, but little else tells us more about our attitude toward another person as their financial standing and their resulting position on the social ladder.
Amidst a record lotto jackpot, news of growing poverty rates in Europe, and endless speculation about the peak price of the Swiss franc, a modest yet extraordinarily telling exhibition has sprung up in several cities across the country. I noticed it one August night while taking a walk down Aleje Ujazdowskie, along the western edge of Łazienki Park. On the fence, a series of large-format photographs had displayed, portraying famous people who appeared to be deep in thought, satisfied, or optimistic, all of them posing with the same item: a coin. To make it a bit more interesting, each coin is somehow tied to the person holding it. The series of over 100 photographs presents an extraordinary cross-section of society, from artists and politicians, to clergymen and journalists. Each image deepens the viewer’s conviction that no one has been left out.
The exhibition is heartwarming and seems morally sanctioned: once taken down, the models’ pictures, coins, and autographs will be auctioned off at the 20th Great Orchestra for Christmas Charity. One may conclude that the public benefit of the exhibition is unquestionable, and certainly much greater than a randomly selected museum exhibition (especially if it happens to be contemporary art), which usually ends up being irritatingly incomprehensible and depressing. Thanks to “Portraits and Coins”, pedestrians can enjoy a noble visual communiqué, see famous faces in familiar settings (who doesn’t use money?), gain trust in the National Bank of Poland, and feel good knowing that all the proceeds will go to charity. Not to mention that the exhibition is free. The photographs show us that money is not just necessary, but also pretty and good, and that it goes particularly well with those who already have some.
We can hardly expect the images to feature bus drivers, kiosk owners, and pensioners. That would defeat the image-centric purpose of the exhibition and put everyone in a bad mood. We would do better to let ourselves be charmed by the magic of honourable people turning small change into amulets, and focus instead on reviving the economy.
translated by Arthur Barys