From Iceland — More Money than You’ll Ever See Again

More Money than You’ll Ever See Again

Published February 11, 2005

More Money than You’ll Ever See Again

The reason for the curator being stripped of her powers to open museum doors is not due to a demotion on her part, but rather to the fact that inside are considerable valuables. The valuables are neither portraits of halfsmiling Italian chicks, screaming Norwegians or marble statues of Michael Jackson and Bubbles, but 100 hundred million krónur in cold, hard cash.

Warriors of the Wallet

The cash is part of an exhibition called Warriors of the Heart by Iranian-born American artist Ashkan Sahih, and bears the subtitle “100 Million in Ready Cash and Tibetan Chanting.” If nothing else, it lives up to its name. The cash is kept in glass display cases in various amounts, in total adding up to the titular round figure. The chanting is a playback tape, and there is also plate with incense on the floor.
But that is not all there is to it. As the curator goes off to curate, I am left alone in one of the two rooms constituting the exhibition. But not for long. Sigurður, one of the two security guards, comes in unarmed, but with a disarming smile, and offers me a guided tour. Who am I to refuse?

He tells me that he has guarded both banks and museums before, but this is one of the tightest operations he’s ever run. In fact, most banks don’t have as much money in their vaults as there is here. As he points out, with all the plastic going round these days, it’s rare for huge sums of cash money to be kept in any one place at any one time. Some of it was lent by the Central Bank of Iceland, but not all of it. As yet, they haven’t disclosed where the rest of the dough came from. Some of it is freshly printed, but quite a few of the batches are in unmarked bills. This, surely, makes the temptation all the greater.

Money is more tempting than art

“It is more tempting to steal piles of money than works of art which it would be hard to resell,” says Sigurður, “but Akureyri is one of the few places where you could have an exhibition like this. Everyone knows everyone, and it’s hard to disappear into the crowd. Down south, they have more people, and more drug problems.” Down south is what Akureyrians tend to call Reykvikians.

Drugs are in fact another part of the exhibition. On the wall, pictures of persons in various states of intoxication stare with varying degrees of lucidity at the loot. These are not your usual collection of creatures of the night, but normal people (whatever that means) on their first high. “None of them got addicted,” Sigurður explains, “it was all regulated by doctors.”

Who is to judge?

There is one more room, hidden behind curtains, and easily missed by guests not enjoying the expert guidance of Sigurður. Inside is a row of hospital beds. “No matter how much money we have, some things are unavoidable for everyone, such as death,” Sigurður says. In a small room leading in from the beds is another, with a wheelchair and a television showing a program about how to paint. Money withers, life withers, perhaps art is the only thing that’s truly eternal.
All the works in the exhibition are for sale. The price for a batch of money is the displayed amount plus 25%. The case is included. But is money on display a work of art? Is it a satirical comment on our obsessions, a postmodern take on the real values in the art world or simply a shortcut to selling out? “Whether this is art or not is not for us to decide,” says Sigurður. We leave that, dear reader, to you.

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