Press Release, September 2020: Creative Time announces Tender, a new public art project by conceptual artist Jill Magid, in which the artist will circulate 120,000 US Mint pennies into America’s economy via bodegas amidst a national coin shortage. Adding up to a single $1,200 COVID-19 stimulus check, the pennies bear the phrase “THE BODY WAS ALREADY SO FRAGILE” engraved along their edges. Functioning as a diffuse monument, the phrase on the penny edge serves as the antithesis to the propaganda on the coin’s face. Taken from a text exploring the economic toll of the pandemic, the work employs increasingly pervasive language that weighs the cost of human lives against economic costs. The coins will disperse throughout the economy via networks of commerce and human movement, echoing the spread of viral pathogens such as COVID-19.
“For Creative Time, I wanted to make a monumental sculpture that would circulate through public use. I chose the penny as my site. Pennies are small, promiscuous, national monuments. The coin’s smooth edge - the only surface bare of government propaganda - was ripe for intervention. I added an ambiguous phrase which speaks to the physical and economic vulnerability of the moment. Tender pennies enter the local economy quietly, and travel like rumor,” said Magid.
First wrapped in custom-designed penny wrappers, the coins will be disseminated via a white cash-in-transit vehicle and introduced into the economy throughout bodegas in New York City’s five boroughs. Once released, the project will travel organically through the city, country, and beyond. The project poses the question: How can a monumental public artwork travel—as money does—between individuals, as a network of perpetual social exchange? With an average circulation of 40 years, this project will exist as long as the pennies are in use. The dissemination of the altered coins reimagines public art as not a static entity, but rather as a phenomenon that circulates freely among the population.
“Tender challenges the boundaries of public art. In this continued time of social distancing as an act of care, Tender explores what it means to create a record of the present-day that will continue to circulate for years to come. Magid explores intimacy and exchange as she reflects upon the profound and devastating, yet often unseen, toll of the current pandemic,” said Creative Time Executive Director Justine Ludwig.
With intricate detail, Magid’s addition to these coins is both poetic and polemical. The phrase laments the human touch implied by the passing off of currency, a touch now met with anxiety. The fragile body in question is both our physical selves and our collective body politic. Magid utilizes pennies—whose newly minted copper surfaces are antimicrobial—as diffuse monuments that will spread discretely across the country, exploring the contradictions between the dissemination of currency and COVID-19, as well as federal power and human vulnerability.
Throughout her career, Magid has interceded in accepted systems of power in order to question them, often reframing the intervention as a poetic or romantic act. With Creative Time, Magid will continue this trajectory with Tender, a public art project responding to the issue of value in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. In this time of global political and social uncertainty, during which COVID-19 thwarts intimacy and direct exchange, the project offers an opportunity to take pause and reflect on the permeability of borders, worth, and human connection.
Following the initial dissemination of the Tender pennies this Fall, the Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago will present an exhibition introducing additional elements of Tender slated from February 13-April 11, 2021. This gallery presentation will present aspects of Tender in a single location after its more expansive public phase with Creative Time. A monograph examining and expanding on the project will be co-published by the Renaissance Society and Creative Time.