Action: Unguarded Money

October 3, 2011 § Leave a comment

In 1956 Miklós Erdély placed open suitcases, primed with 100-florint notes, in the streets of Budapest to collect money for the widows and orphans of the Hungarian revolution.

“On 23 October 1956, spontaneous student protests in Budapest erupted into a general uprising against the Hungarian Communist government and the Soviet Army troops stationed in the country. In late October or early November, at one of the meetings that took place at his home, Miklós Erdély presented to friends and artists the idea of placing boxes for collecting money for the victims of the revolution – boxes that nobody would guard – in six locations around Budapest. The chose a work group, set up the boxes, and, on posters marking the collection points, wrote: “The purity of our revolution makes it possible for us to collect money in this way for the families of our fallen martyrs. The Writers Union of Hungary.” Using a car that belonged to the Writers Union, Erdély drove from box to box and tried to persuade the members of the revolutionary militia who were standing next to the boxes to leave: he told them that the time had come when there was no longer any need to guard money. It was not until 1965, when Erdély learned about “happenings” and the Fluxus movement, that he designated this action as an art event and gave it the title Unguarded Money.”  Božidar Zrinski (from the catalog of the 29th Ljubljana Biennial)

[ image source ]

See also a longer account in Colin Vernall’s essay “Money No Object: Revolution and Reevaluation in the Economics of Place and the Place of Economics in Art” [PDF]

Vernall goes on to describe a second money action of Erdély’s, Selling Money in the Street:

“Though definitely taking his cue from the earlier work in Budapest in order to highlight the strangeness of this value system, Erdély adopts a more ironic approach to this action than he did in Unguarded Money:

“It consisted of – since by then I had some money – selling money on the street at a price somewhat under its nominal value. Opening a boutique, and offering the 100-franc note for 98.50 – at a slight discount.”

Again, the work takes the form of an action. Erdély is recorded referring to it as such: ‘I started to organize an action. Using the experience gained in that ’56 thing’. However, when he applies for a boutique site on the Boulevard Saint-Germain, Erdély is surprised that the authorities are wholly opposed to the project on the grounds that it is ‘tantamount to devaluing their money’. Although little is known about precisely how this work finally came to fruition, the reaction to the piece was generally mixed. The idea of tampering with the value attributed to money, as demonstrated by the difficulty involved in securing premises, seemed to hit a nerve. Erdély was surprised to hear that a Swedish artist later attempted a similar piece, selling the Swedish krona for less than its nominal value. He registered less surprise, though, at the response of the Swedish authorities in imposing a jail sentence (source: Miklós Peternák, 1991. “Conversation with Miklós Erdély,” Spring 1983. Argus 2(5). 76-77).”

Source: Colin Vernall, “Money No Object,” eSharp Journal #11, Spring 2008

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