Artist at the Modern Art Museum uses pennies to reflect on the pandemic



The Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth (AP Photo/Donna McWilliam)

By Emma Watson

Glass pennies glow in a darkened room. A chest X-ray reveals a penny-sized shape in the stomach of a young boy. A bulging bag of pennies sits in the middle of the room.

Pennies are the heart of an exhibit at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth. Conceived by Brooklyn-based artist Jill Magid, “Tender” is meant to capture the economic debate of the pandemic.

This U.S. Mint bag is filled with pennies that circulated throughout New York during the pandemic. (Emma Watson/Staff Writer)

Magid’s work involves, “the importance of the economy versus the importance of human life in the age of COVID-19,” said Kendal Smith Lake, director of communications at the Modern.

The exhibition highlights the pandemic’s effect on essential businesses, people and the economy. Magid, “disseminated 120,000 newly minted 2020 U.S. pennies […] into the American economy via bodegas throughout New York City,” said Alison Hearst, an associate curator at the Modern. These 120,000 pennies are equal to the amount of one stimulus relief check.

The exhibition includes an X-ray of the artist’s son, who swallowed a penny. (Emma Watson/TCU 360)

The exhibition also includes fresh flowers which fall under agricultural work and were therefore deemed essential, said Hearst.

The work is part of the FOCUS series, which includes three 10-week exhibitions each year. One of the three will be considered for the Modern’s permanent collection.

The pennies circulated throughout the economy and individuals, much like COVID-19 itself. Each penny was engraved with the phrase, “the body was already so fragile.”

Now, those pennies are displayed in a U.S. Mint bag in Magid’s exhibition at the Modern. The exhibition also includes a chest X-ray of the artist’s son with a swallowed penny and glass pennies glowing under a blacklight.

In the next room, rows of fresh flowers represent the New York City bodegas where the pennies were dispersed.

“Every Monday, we get new flowers,” said Smith Lake, “They’re donated by Central Market.”

Behind the flowers are large, hand-drawn presidential documents representing those published on Labor Day in 2020 and 2021.

Central Market donates flowers weekly to the exhibit; they represent the bodegas where the pennies circulated. (Emma Watson/TCU 360)

“The use of materials Jill uses for her works – including pennies, glass coins, the X-ray and flowers – are all types of artistic media we haven’t shown in the galleries before,” said Hearst.

Hearst said this is the first exhibition at the Modern that reflects on the pandemic.

Magid’s exhibition is on display until March 20.