Santiago Montoya – The Great Swindle, at Halcyon Gallery
Santiago Montoya’s solo exhibition at the Halcyon Gallery shows the works of the Columbian artist created between 2002 and 2012.
The Great Swindle analyses essentially two themes that appear deeply interconnected: the economic relationship between East and West and rich and poor countries, and the medium of bank notes and food coupons as ready-made painted surfaces to question our collective ideals and aspirations.
Despite the title suggesting perhaps a brash message, Montoya’s aesthetic is simple, but meaningful and laced with a certain amount of humour, as shown by the titles of his artworks.
Montoya started working on the Great Swindle series before the financial crisis spread worldwide. The selected bank notes coming from all over the world are snapshots of time; they represent a melting pot of political propaganda and historic events. His artwork is saturated with layers of meaning; bank notes own their designated economic value, but in his paintings they also represent relations and infrastructure.
The deep connection between money, politics and the resulting relationship between countries is particularly evident in the piece Money Talks 2012. Looking at the economic tensions still present between the Far East and the West, Montoya puts together bank notes from China, showing Chairman Mao’s portrait, and $1 banknotes decorated with George Washington. This huge artwork, made of paper money on a stainless steel frame, shows the word blah formed from dollars in a sea of Chinese notes. The Colombian artist explained: “While China seeks security in the US dollar, the US dollar is even more dependent on China’s economic growth. Mao looks west, Washington looks east.”
Montoya is interested in exploring cross-cultural boundaries, using repeated iconography (boats, dollar symbols, and stars) in series like Whishing Stars, where a white star might suggest the American Revolution, and the red star stands for Communism. Each piece successfully sparks thought about the most important issues affecting today’s world.
Another incredible work that forms part of the Whishing Stars series is the DC3 plane upon a Chinese 2-fen food rationing coupons, used during Mao’s regime. The plane represents hope and freedom, and coupons are used to remind the audience of the potential results of such political idealism.
Montoya’s inspiring works are open to a multitude of discussions, speculations and analyses. This exhibition clearly wants to shake our systems of values that ultimately shape us as individuals and nations.