In Creative Time’s most widespread public art commission to date, Jill Magid intercedes in our national economy, responding to issues of value in the throes of COVID-19 with her first major U.S. public art project, entitled Tender. Magid disseminates 120,000 2020-issued pennies, the edges of which she engraved with the appropriated phrase, “THE BODY WAS ALREADY SO FRAGILE.” The text evokes both the human body and the body politic—and underscores their interconnection during the coronavirus pandemic. Via a white cash-in-transit truck, these altered coins enter our national economy through purchases at bodegas across all five boroughs of New York City. The number of pennies echoes the $1200 stimulus checks that were issued by the U.S. Treasury as part of The CARES Act, which provided financial relief to individual citizens during the coronavirus. As a voice from the public, the engraved phrase etched onto the edges serves as the antithesis to the propaganda stamped onto the coins’ faces.
Magid utilizes pennies—whose newly minted copper surfaces are antimicrobial—as a dispersed monument that will spread discretely across the country, beginning in New York, to explore the contradictions between the dissemination of currency and COVID-19. With an average circulation of 40 years, this project will exist as long as the pennies are in use, and as rumor. In this way, Magid reimagines public art as not a static entity, but rather as a phenomenon that circulates freely among the population; each transaction builds social relations in networks of exchange and interconnectivity.
As the U.S. government uses metaphors of American power fighting the virus as a war waged against an “invisible enemy,” the project speaks to human vulnerability and the effects of the virus on both a personal and national scale. In this time of global political and social uncertainty, during which COVID-19 denies us all intimacy and direct exchange, Tender offers an opportunity to take pause and reflect on the permeability of borders, value, and intimacy.
Lead project support for Tender is generously provided by Philip E. and Shelley Fox Aarons, Suzanne and Bob Cochran, Marie Douglas, Molly Gochman, and Stephanie and Tim Ingrassia.
Photography by Leandro Justen and Paul McGeiver.
Video by Davyana San Miguel, Leonhardt Cassullo Video Fellow