Philipp Valenta - a money artist


“Geld oder Leben” (Money or Life) was the title of an exhibition happening from March 19th until April 24th in 2011 in the gallery Dada Post in Berlin. Philipp Valenta was present with the work “Das Kunstkartell” (The Art Cartel) (in collaboration with Cosima Göpfert). The idea behind this was to let interested people participate live in the process of making art without payment. This relates directly to todays art market, which only cares about an increase in value!

Philipp Valenta belongs to a group of artists that deal with matters of content. He does not promise any increase in value but instead bestows sleepless nights on his audience because his works refer to haunting economic and social grievances in our society. Besides that, the attention
is directed towards cultural and historical aspects. Philipp Valenta’s works are not intended as decorations for living and dining rooms or even bedrooms. The artworks should rather be put on display in schools, public spaces and museums, this is where they belong.

What did Philipp Valenta actually do? He laundered money, counted money, played with money and let visitors to an art fair pay him to be able to pay his debts coming from a student loan.

The Haupt Collection currently holds two works by Philipp Valenta. One of these works is a video with the title “€ 606,24”. One can see Philipp Valenta entering the room portentously with one bag full of money in each of his hands, only to spread them out on the desk and begin stacking and piling the coins. After about two hours all carefully stacked and piled up coins, now wrapped in coin wrapping paper,are put back into the moneybags and the artist leaves the room.

His monotonous movements of piling up the coins emanate Buddhist wisdom, tranquillity and serenity. The video is perfectly suitable for watching after a tiring day of work. One may question why the eight copies limited edition are only available in galleries and not in shops and mail order businesses that offer esoteric products. The explanation is quite simple! The risk that within time the suicide rate amongst the audience drastically increases is pretty high. Philipp Valenta shows his viewers that working for money is quite meaningless and absurd. Money that is kept in savings boxes, cases, bags or on bank accounts proves this.

Money is worth nothing!

In days long past money was a repository of value, due to the coins consisting of, in part, silver and/or gold, as well as offering a form of measurement in terms of calculating spending capacities and of course an instrument of payment. Paper money particularly lost its function as a reflection of value during the early 1970’s when Richard Nixon terminated the gold standard. This had become necessary because he needed money to finance the Vietnam War but he did not possess the equivalent in gold to support the money needed.

At the time of their origin, between 650 – 600 BC, coins were one of the first means of communication. Everybody had access to the likeness of the new emperor because coins were stamped with his image after his coronation. With each issue of new coins a devaluation followed because the proportion of gold or silver in each coin was reduced.

Until the introduction of the Euro on the 1st of January 2002, money was an expression of national identity. On banknotes in particular important historical figures were depicted, for instance the
brothers Grimm (1000 DM note), Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (20 DM note of GDR), Alessandro Volta (10000 Lira) or Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (50 Franc note). On the new Euro banknotes only buildings and bridges that have never been build are depicted. Only coins of the currency offer each state within the European Union the chance to introduce national and local elements into the design. Maybe this is one reason why the coins are still widely popular with numismatists.

The Greek and migrant crisis did clarify for everyone that a union neglecting all regional and national features does not answer the needs of the people. The establishment of the internal European market and the planned extensions of, for example the free trade agreement TTIP, are only useful for globally operating companies. European farmers are paid to let their fields lie fallow, numerous Caribbean states lost the potential to sell bananas to Europe because the fruit does not meet European norms and standards.

The business and trade with money or worthless bonds did generate one of the biggest crises of the world’s economy in 2008. It was played with someone else‘s money. One work by Philipp Valenta is titled “Mit Geld spielt man nicht” (You Don‘t Play With Your Own Money). The work comes in the shape of a Tangram game. One can arrange different geometric shapes into the form of a square which then shows one half of a 5-Euro-note. Besides that there is the possibility of arranging figures of one’s own choice and liking. This truism, “you don‘t play with your own money“, has started to ring true for most people moreso since the collapse of Lehman Brothers.

On this account the ambition of the Swedish people to dispose of cash and merely use it as a unit for accounting is quite contemporary. Money, cash, has, like so many other things, lost its original value and with that its meaning.

Philipp Valenta reminds us of all that very distinctly with his works.


Dr. Stefan Haupt, lawyer and collector, Berlin