All Bartholomew Bland can see at the Lehman College Art Gallery is money.
It’s everywhere. It’s plastered on the walls and even hanging in one of the rooms as kites. Sometimes Bland even encounters money from other countries.
That’s because cash rules all in the gallery’s latest exhibition, “Mediums of Exchange,” a two-part exhibition with the Borough of Manhattan Community College’s Shirley Fiterman Art Center at 81 Barclay St. Lehman’s portion of the exhibit is on display through May 4 at 250 Bedford Park Blvd., while BMCC’s runs through March 30.
“Mediums of Exchange” came to fruition at a City University of New York meeting of art gallery directors when Bland, Lehman’s gallery director, and Lisa Panzera — who runs the Shirley Fiterman Art Center — realized they were both working on shows related to money, and decided to work together.
Bland recalls coordinating the show was just a “series of conversations” that led to him and Panzera narrowing down the artists they wanted to feature in each respective space to explore the concept of money through economic, sociological and psychological perspectives.
“A lot of it comes down to the quirks of personal taste and what we like,” he said. “We knew at the end of the day the catalog would sort of hang together as a really nice piece (and) that the strength of everything relating to money would hold it together.”
More than 30 contemporary artists made the cut in “Mediums of Exchange,” and at Lehman College Art Gallery, many of the works take a deep dive into how money personally impacts them. For artists like Sonya Clark, it’s piecing together homemade paper from sugar cane fiber with the price in today’s dollars of how much she would have been sold for as a slave. As a woman in her 40s with skills, Clark’s “price” would have been $36,683.
Meanwhile, Jennifer Dalton graduated art school with debt and collected a suitcase worth of credit card offers from different companies to make a statement about how easy it is to fall into more debt.
“In the course of a year, she was offered $1.35 million in credit card offers,” Bland said.
When it comes to selecting artists for shows like “Mediums of Exchange,” Bland is a “sucker for technique.”
“I have a great belief that art can be politically meaningful,” he said. “It can be soothing, it can be a call to arms. But for it to do any of those things, it has to have a degree of craft about it.”
Although the intricacies of money are far from Bland’s expertise as a gallery director, he feels he’s learned a lot of formal concepts about its value after putting the exhibition together. It even made him think about how countries decide who or what to place on their currency.
“The people you choose to put on one’s money is a political statement in itself,” he said. “Some countries put flowers, or fruit, or artists, or famous paintings. It’s interesting what is chosen. (The United States has) a very uniform series of very stately founding fathers, which is OK. It would be interesting to mix it up more.”
If Bland had a chance to produce a second version of “Mediums of Exchange,” he said he would explore other types of currency, like bitcoin.
“There is a question of ‘what does this piece of paper mean?’” he said. “Especially because this piece of paper is starting to disappear. It’s now more about credit than cash.”
As visitors and members of the Lehman College community come to see the show through May 4, Bland wants them to leave the exhibition thinking about “money in their own life.”
“It’s something that everyone needs, everyone wants,” Bland said, “and yet we have very conflicted views about” it.