On 8 January 2017, contemporary Colombian artist, Santiago Montoya, will present Surfin’ USA, his forthcoming exhibition at Halcyon Gallery, London. Using international bank notes as his aesthetic arena, the body of work is an exploration into the culture, currency and political issues of the USA.
Viewing paper currency as ready-made works of art, Montoya cuts, alters and stretches the bills to explore the meaning beyond their surface - Montoya creates a unique visual language by reinterpreting paper currency as both a canvas and raw material. By using cliché titles and familiar imagery, Montoya explores socio-political issues and complex subject matters with an element of humour and in doing so, encourages conversation and debate.
Combining the pop vocabulary of Warhol and the aesthetics of popular culture, Montoya uses icons such as Mickey Mouse and The Velvet Underground to draw attention to the social and financial crises that have afflicted 2016. The exhibition arose from Montoya’s large triptych also named Surfin’ USA, which depicts Mickey Mouse in a surfing sequence. The artwork was inspired by Walt Disney’s “Wild Waves” cartoon where Mickey dives into the waves to save his beloved Minnie Mouse from drowning. The cartoon aired in 1929 – the year of the most devastating stock market crash in the history of the United States and the Great Depression.
Surfin’ USA coincides with The Great Swindle, a body of work currently on display at the Art Museum of The Americas (AMA), moments from the Washington Monument and the White House. Curated by Harvard University Fellow Professor José Luis Falconi, The Great Swindle will be exhibited until March 2017 and focuses on Montoya’s re-contextualization of nationalistic motifs found on paper currency from around the world. The exhibition is Montoya’s first mid-career museum retrospective in the United States and sees the artist radically disintegrate the materiality of money. Through The Great Swindle, Montoya continues to interrogate our beliefs in the value and solidity of financial systems through his long-standing preoccupation with paper money as his medium of choice.