Good-Bye Favorite European Portraits: Hello Euro. 1999-2000

Underwater installation, the World Bank Headquarters Atrium Pool, Washington DC 

This exhibition merges ideas of art, money and national identity to create a concept that is unique and provocative.  Russian artists Natasha and Valera Cherkashin show a deep interest and understanding of cultural history from their own perspective and its links to other nations.  Having experienced the loss of cultural heritage in their own country, they often respond by creating art.  "When people wanted to forget and even destroy all that was left after the Soviet period, we tried to save our disappearing culture, at least in our artworks.  When we learned about the birth of the Euro, we realized that a big piece of history and traditions would be lost", they say.  The creation of artworks in this installation is their response to the departure of national currencies.The choice of presenting photographs of the portraits on currencies underwater stems from the Cherkashins' fascination with water and mythology.  Over the years they have created a number of exhibitions and performances under water.  A few years ago the artists began working on the theme, 'Atlantises of the World," exploring the association of lost cultures and the legend of Atlantis.  This concept, and a series of exhibitions on the theme, "Favorite Portraits of People in the World," were the inspiration for this project.

 

Artemis A. Zenetou

Curator/Manager World Bank Art Program

Natasha & Valera Cherkashin during Installation in the Reflecting Pool of the World Bank headquarters.

Sponsors of the project:

The World Bank, The European Union, Air France, Dianne Beal Contemporary Art, Capital Summit Laminations

Brochure for the show.

Meeting with James Wolfenson, the president of the World Bank

Permanent installation in the World Bank Headquarters after the show.

Annual report of the World Bank. 2000

...Portraits seen floating in the Atrium pool are of some of Europe's most beloved and talented figures.  Often, a single portrait can symbolize an entire national character.  To Americans, a portrait of George Washington or Abraham Lincoln immediately conjures up historical, cultural and political references.  The same can be said for the European faces seen here.  For example, the faces of French scientist Marie Curie or Italian physicist Alessandro Volta remind each respective country of its history and accomplishments.  Each country's citizens are able to recognize and identify portraits in the installation, enabling them to reflect on their own history and the path that has led to the Euro.

This site-specific installation was created by photographing the portraits on currencies of the participating European Union member countries, then manipulating them into various formats, up to one meter across.  Each portrait is hand colored and enhanced with gold and silver acrylic.  Each image is laminated and weighted slightly so that it floats just under the surface of the reflecting pool.  Placing the portraits in the pool follows the tradition in many countries of throwing coins into fountains or pools for luck.  The accompanying installation above the pool draws viewers' attention to the shimmering surface below and augments the theme developed underwater.  

As an extension of the underwater theme developed in the Cherkashins' earlier exhibitions and performances, this installation, Goodbye Favorite European Portraits: Hello Euro, physically envelops the photographs of European portraits in a laminate capable of staying in water for longer periods.  The idea of encapsulating the images becomes even more captivating when we consider that today's currencies soon will become collector's items and pieces of our collective memory.

 

Dianne Beal, curator