The capitalistic system is the oldest system in the world, and any system that has weathered the gales and chances of thousands of years must have something in it that is sound and true. We believe in the right of a man to himself, to his own property, to his own destiny, and we believe the government exists as the umpire in the game, not to come down and take the bat, but to see that the other fellows play the game according to the principles of fairness and justice.
Nicholas Longworth, 1869-1931, American lawyer and politician; Speaker of the United States House of Representatives.
It is often these fundamental tenets of society – capitalism, social justice, ethics – that artist Santiago Montoya so profoundly explores in his work. Originally trained as a painter, and feeling limited with the medium to express his ideas, Montoya adopted real bank notes into his practice. The colours, patterns, pictures and narratives depicted on these notes spectacularly transformed his compositions into otherworldly, multi-layered works of art. Beyond the aesthetic impact, Montoya implicitly investigates the fabric of our society, and its systems and hierarchies that are the framework for the world we inhabit.
For Context Art Miami 2023, Offshoot Arts are proud to present a new body of work by Colombian artist Santiago Montoya. The dazzling compositions of series like Wall of Lamentations will be on show, where global bank notes are meticulously aligned on stainless steel panels, a radiant display of colours and illustrative details. Their methodical alignment suggest order, community and unification – however the title of these works belie the colourful affirmations of this unusual medium. The artist constantly poses questions to the viewer, provoking a debate on whether things are actually as they seem. What is the role we play in society? What is value and how do we quantify it? Are the ideological scenes depicted on the bank notes actually reflective of that state’s dogma and actions? On one level, playful, upbeat and joyous; what is so intriguing about Montoya’s work is the multi-faceted observations the artist highlights to convey ideas about financial systems and our environment.
The notion of play and risk is a common thread amongst this diverse collection of works, and the joy of nostalgia is captured in Montoya’s new works depicting the iconic, retro game Pac-Man and the enemy ghosts. Intriguingly, the artist incorporates Brazilian Real to depict Pac-Man, against a background of US dollar bills. A traditional house in the Amazon rainforest is portrayed on the currency – is the artist making a comment on the reduction of the jungle, as a victim of logging or climate impact, or capitalism; shrinking against the pressures of the Western world? Or, as the Pac-Man himself, is the image symbolic of the strength and resilience of the Indigenous communities in the face of globalisation and the expanse of modernity? Or does the Pac-Man and his never-ending quest to chomp the dots reflect society’s insatiable desire for consumption? It is up to the viewer to decide, with the artist’s quest to offer “deeper understanding” of the issues facing our world, without political motivation or agenda. The choice of currencies is often decided by the artist to reflect an inner and ethical dilemma – to reflect the tension and conflict between opposing views and ideologies.
A break-through series is presented at the fair for the first time – Carbon Neutral. In these sculptural works the artist incorporates coal – a material that is both revered for its central role in the industrial revolution and denounced as the largest anthropogenic source of carbon dioxide contributing to climate change. Colombia has a deep history of mining and has the largest coal reserves in Latin America. This series is part of the artist’s investigation and ongoing research into pre-Colombian cultures and commodities. The artist casts exquisite sculptures of the basketball and football – a nod to the prevalence of the sport in our culture and a fascinating fusion of an ancient resource with modern pursuits. Soccer Totem (Carbon Neutral) explores the idea of football as tribal and ritualistic – a modern-day faith or religion – using the Totem symbol as a transcendent and sacred object, fusing North and South American cultures with playfulness and poignancy. Carbon Hippo is a wry reference to arguably one of Colombia’s most notorious countrymen, drug lord Pablo Escobar, and the escape of several of his Hippopotamuses into the wild after his death. It could also be interpreted as a metaphor for the destruction and environmental impact of coal mining on the region, and as a global climate threat.
The Other Side depicts images of ferns superimposed onto bank notes, images taken during one of the artist’s research trips in Colombia, where lush vegetation grows next to a waterfall. This work also connects to the coal sculptures, as coal is a product of sedimented dead plant matter that is converted into coal by the heat and pressure of deep burial over millions of years. The notion of transformation is a recurring theme, and how we have little control over the final result. The Other Side captures the artist’s position of presenting both sides, an internal dilemma of right and wrong, dark and light, Yin and Yang. A profound punctuation point is The End of the Beginning, a galactic projection of planet earth against the backdrop of black painted bank notes. Are the dollar bills below encroaching on our earth, a sign of dystopian calamity and threat? Or do they represent domination of Western influence and capitalism that poses a threat to balance and global equity?
Montoya transforms and transcends these unique materials into extraordinary works of art that challenge and seduce. The dreams and delusions of wealth and power are simultaneously conveyed in monumental works that capture the complexities of our time.
“Montoya has become not only a true scholar of finances and of the history of commodities in Latin America, but an artist who addresses – by creating acute immersive environments – the uneven and uncertain landscapes that promises forge.”
- José Luis Falconi
Post-doctoral fellow, History of Art department, Harvard University, USA
ABOUT THE ARTIST
Born in 1974 in Bogotá, Colombia, Santiago Montoya lives and works in Miami, USA.
Montoya’s practice has been dedicated to the exploration of notions of value, nationalism, commodities and the universal consequences and nuances of the production and distribution of wealth. Initially a painter, an inspired progression was to incorporate the actual raw materials in his work – global currencies, gold, silver, copper and other precious materials – exposing the disconnect between official state ideologies and reality itself. Montoya captures the collective consciousness, questioning the systems of power and shining a light on the disparities, injustices, and the absurd. Montoya’s works combine a wry humour and acute insight on a global subject that affects us all, and the inherent systems and structures that we live by.
Museum exhibitions include Dumbarton Oaks Museum, Washington D.C (2024), Sommerville Museum, MA, USA (2022) and Art Museum of the Americas, Washington D.C (2017). Recent exhibitions include ‘El Dorado’, The Americas Society, New York; Fundación Proa, Buenos Aires, Argentina. ‘Elsewhere(s)’ at Untitled Art Fair, curated by José Luis Falconi and Estrellita Brodsky, Miami; ‘Seeds of Resistance’ at the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum in Michigan, USA. Montoya has upcoming solo exhibitions at the Somerville Museum in Massachusetts, USA and DRCIAS at Harvard, Massachusetts, USA in 2022. Montoya’s work is highly collected in both public and private collections, including MFA Boston, AMA Washington D.C, Dell Children’s Medical Centre, TX, USA; Jill & Peter Kraus, and Estrellita & Daniel Brodsky, amongst others.