Colombian Artist Teaches Us That Money Talks

Jan 22, 2021

A new art collection showcasing money is inspired by the design of banknotes – perhaps to become an endangered species in a future cashless society. Colombian artist Santiago Montoya, passionate about the powerful messages conveyed by banknote iconography, is back in London with his latest work – Money Talks.

Montoya believes the design of paper money carries more beauty and tells us more about ourselves than most citizens realise when casually handling their ‘wad of cash’ every day.

Standing a few metres away from five large and colourful mosaics, one sees each of them showing the shape of a different currency – the Dollar, Euro, Yuan, Pound and Rupee. They are somehow intimidating pictures.

The Money Talks collection is at the Halcyon Gallery, in London’s chic and moneyed New Bond Street. It transmits the omniscient but cold nature of money. And the knock-on effect comes when one gets closer and discovers the images are made up of endless rows of banknote cuttings that form collages.

The symbols on the notes – patriotic heroes on horseback, religious temples, farmers, spinners, industrial ports, mythological animals – are as varied as the countries which issued them. Banknotes from different times and places turn out to be a unique reflection of values, ideologies and principles. Santiago Montoya’s work gives us the opportunity to stare at these little pieces of art and history with new eyes. He re-interprets paper currency as both a canvas as well as a raw material.

The 41-year-old artist from Bogotá, Colombia, had previously used the aesthetics of materials to introduce meaning in his works. The results are collections where appearance and concept bear equal weight – with varied international influencers such as Tom Friedman and Andy Warhol. His obsession with money and capitalist desire is also present in most of his recent work.

“Money is the meeting point of all humans on this planet. For good or bad, we are inter-related to one another through it. And it gives us pleasure as much as it makes us miserable,” explains Montoya.

A recurring image in the pictures of this collection is the United Kingdom’s reigning monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, often depicted with elegant irony as one of the many faces of money. One of the most amusing pieces shows a £50 British note with Her Majesty’s face surrounded by Vietnamese notes with snarling tigers and playfully entitled ‘Hello Kitty’. Another eloquent name is ‘Elephant and Castle’,  where Her Majesty’s face comes after Burmese banknotes with green elephants, and is a wordplay on the south London district of Elephant and Castle where Charlie Chaplin was born.

Santiago Montoya, who graduated in Fine Arts in Bogotá, has exhibited his work internationally, with special affection for London as a centre of arts, where he had his first solo exhibition in 2012, The Great Swindle, later followed by The Horizon Series and The New Dollar SignMoney Talks can be caught at the Halcyon Gallery until 13 March and the Museum of the Americas in Washington D.C will be hosting a major solo show of Montoya’s The Great Swindle from October.

Funnily enough, the man who cuts, stretches and pastes paper money to make us see its weak nature – counterpoint to its global power – is the same whose works have gone for £125,000. Maybe this is the irony of the irony. Maybe it is the cleverest way of playing the game by knowing its rules. This is an artist who critiques money and by so doing, ends up making it for himself.