• 12.05.11

Sign Of The Times: John Baldessari Erects Fake $100,000 Bill At The High Line

Baldessari turns a billboard into a bill board. See what he did there?

Sign Of The Times: John Baldessari Erects Fake $100,000 Bill At The High Line

First a roller-skating rink. Then a giant inflatable globe courtesy of David Byrne. If those weren’t enough to lure you to the High Line, Manhattan’s mega-chic elevated park, then perhaps this will: You just might stumble upon a $100,000 bill.


Actually, you’d be blind not to. Stretched above the High Line at 18th Street, Woodrow Wilson’s dour green-hued mug fills a 25-foot-by-75-foot ad space where inexplicably sweaty underwear models normally consort.

The bill is, alas, only an art installation (sorry wannabe 1 percenters)–the work of California-based John Baldessari, one of the funniest and most prankish artists alive. Baldessari once burned a pile of his paintings then baked the ashes into cookies. Soon after, he vowed, “I Will Not Make Any More Boring Art” and–apparently not one to go back on a promise–got a bunch of art-school students to repeat the phrase on the walls of their school’s gallery, which wanted to exhibit his work but didn’t have the money to fly him out there.

So his latest piece is a billboard that’s also a bill board. (See what he did there?) Yes, $100,000 bills actually exist, but only 42,000 were ever printed. That was during the Great Depression, and none of the bank notes circulated to the public. In fact, they’re illegal to own. Most were destroyed (though some remain at branches of the Federal Reserve and the Smithsonian Museum).

As for what The First $100,000 I Ever Made means: Take your guess. Maybe it’s an object to lust after. Maybe it’s just a photo op. Or maybe it’s the best commentary on the global financial crisis this side of a Paul Krugman column. Whatever the answer, we know this: It certainly isn’t boring.

[Photos by Bill Orcutt courtesy of John Baldessari and the Marian Goodman Gallery]

About the author

Suzanne LaBarre is the editor of Co.Design. Previously, she was the online content director of Popular Science and has written for the New York Times, the New York Observer, Newsday, I.D.