Tender: Balance

Press release: Featuring the premiere of a new film and other new works, Jill Magid's Tender: Balance at the Renaissance Society follows the movement of pennies and some of their afterlives while thinking about absence, loss, and traces left behind. Reflecting her unique approach as an artist, the exhibition has aspects that are intimate and poetic while also observing broader systems around us—in this case the intertwining of the economy and the lives of individual people.

In each of her in-depth projects, Jill Magid becomes intimately involved with different structures of authority, whether government bureaucracies, a secret service agency, or the guardians of other artists’ estates. Gaining access through systemic loopholes or contact with people on the inside, she follows the rules of engagement with each institution and draws out their internal logics. In a way, she becomes a stand-in for any person trying to navigate something much larger than themselves.

As the pandemic began last year, the complex relationships between individuals, groups of people, institutions, and deeply rooted systems quickly came into stark relief. Magid was especially struck by the way public figures weighed the loss of human lives against the supposed costs for the economy. Against this backdrop, she began developing a project that would take multiple forms over time, centering on the circulation of pennies.

Grounding her exhibition at the Renaissance Society, Magid’s new film gradually shifts its focus from the US Mint and coin distribution networks to more individual moments of exchange, pennies passing hand to hand at a time when every touch has its risks. The film’s sound design and score fill the open space, adding their own presence alongside three other works: an x-ray that captures an accidental passage through the body; a partially-emptied pallet of pennies diverted from its usual path; and twelve glass “pattern pennies” that reimagine the US government’s aborted tests of other materials at a past moment of wartime scarcity.

This exhibition is the second manifestation of her larger unfolding project, set against the backdrop of the pandemic. While developing new threads, Magid’s exhibition Tender: Balance parallels her monumental but nearly invisible public artwork, Tender, produced by Creative Time in New York last fall. Beginning in the summer of 2020, Magid acquired 400,000 newly minted pennies, the volume of a U.S. Mint standard ballistic bag used to transport coins in bulk. On 120,000 of these pennies, she engraved the edge with a single phrase: THE BODY WAS ALREADY SO FRAGILE. (These words might evoke both the human body, the body politic, or ideas of the economy as a kind of body itself, while the number of pennies equals the initial $1200 stimulus checks sent out by the U.S. Treasury as part of The CARES Act.) Magid then introduced the engraved pennies back into everyday use at bodegas throughout New York.

As these engraved pennies are steadily exchanged over time—with an expected span of forty years in circulation—Tender becomes a dispersed monument or memorial, while also tracing the flows of currency within the economy. The initial manifestation of Tender as an expansive public artwork can only be experienced in intimate and unscripted ways, one penny at a time—or more likely, simply as a rumor. At the Renaissance Society, in contrast, Magid’s new film and an installation of other new works bring the project to rest, but only momentarily—a pause in circulation that tells its own stories.

Curated by Karsten Lund.