What is it about seeing massive sums of money collected in a single place (and also rendered useless) that exerts such a fascination on us? On his first album The Top Part, standup comedian John Mulaney has a bit where he asserts that he’d rather pay $10 to see a pile of 100 million dollars in a room than pay $10 to see most of the movies that cost 100 million dollars. The KLF created a significant public spectacle when they burned a million pounds in public—indeed, some observers say that Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty of the KLF were never quite the same after that odd event.
Alberto Echegaray Guevara was “an advisor to the Argentinian economic minister who pegged the country’s currency at a 1:1 rate with the US dollar” in 1991, a move that unquestionably sapped the Argentine government of flexibility and almost certainly led to the country’s massive economic meltdown in 1998-2002. In those years Argentina suffered an economic collapse that makes the problems the U.S. suffered between 2007 and 2010 look like a joke: the economy shrank by a whopping 28 percent. Understandably, the economic shock caused significant unrest in the country and toppled the government of Fernando de la Rua in 2001.
A cataclysmic event of such magnitude is bound to discourage one a mite about the world financial regime, and stance surely made all the more pronounced by the world economic collapse in 2008. In response, Guevara created Moneyball: Power Spheres, a work of art that uniquely expresses a deep pessimism about the ubiquitous institution of money: the work consists of 12 Murano crystal orbs, 11 of them filled with a million shredded Argentinian pesos each, surrounding an orb with a million shredded U.S. dollars. (The ratio of orbs is meant to comment on the exchange rate between peso and dollar.) The work saw its debut at arteBA, Latin America’s largest contemporary art fair, in late May.
In an essay for the Atlantic titled “Why I Shredded $1 Million,” Guevara explains his motivations and the process of making Moneyball:
The central theme of my work was the idea of destruction. I wanted to break something down to give it a new meaning, or to see what new meaning it would be given. To find out, I shredded $1 million, and the black-market equivalent of that sum in Argentine pesos: 11 million. The money was then displayed in Murano crystal spheres in an installation I named Moneyball: The One Million Dollar Installation.
No matter who saw the crystal spheres, the first question was invariably, “Whose money is this?” or “Where/how did you get the money?” All of the bills were out-of-circulation, already rendered valueless in the traditional sense. While I was probably the first person to ask, obtaining permission to take the shredded money was complex in the United States and at the European Central Bank.
Argentina’s Central Bank was the only institution to be withholding, though. It was an ironic move, given that the Argentine peso is the least valued of all the currencies, but not surprising considering how secretive the country is when it comes to its books, having reported inflation rates for years now as much lower than what independent economists assess. The Central Bank surprisingly keeps no official records of how many bills it destroys, either. For months, I followed trucks with out-of-circulation bills to wade through dumpsters with their discards until I finally accumulated enough for the installation.
Guevara hopes to take his art work all over the world. In this video, he waxes philosophical about the evanescent and arbitrary power that money holds over us. But for his audience, the work is mainly about seeing all that money.