Museum of Modern Art artist uses pennies to reflect on pandemic

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

Glass coins shine in a dark room. A chest X-ray reveals a penny-sized shape in a young boy’s stomach. A bulging bag of pennies sits in the middle of the room.

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

This US Mint bag is filled with coins that have been circulating all over New York during the pandemic. (Emma Watson/editor)

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

The exhibition highlights the effect of the pandemic on essential businesses, people and the economy. Magid, “released 120,000 newly minted 2020 US cents […] into the American economy via bodegas throughout New York City,” said Alison Hearst, associate curator at Modern. These 120,000 cents are equal to the amount of a stimulus check.

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

The display also includes fresh flowers that fall under farm labor and were therefore deemed essential, Hearst said.

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 on display in a US Mint bag in Magid’s exhibit at Modern. The exhibit also includes a chest X-ray of the artist’s son with a swallowed penny and glass coins glowing under a black light.

In the next room, rows of fresh flowers represent the New York bodegas where pennies have been scattered.

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

Behind the flowers are large hand-drawn presidential documents depicting those issued on Labor Day in 2020 and 2021.

Central Market offers flowers weekly at the show; they represent the bodegas where the pennies circulated. (Emma Watson/TCU 360)

“The use of materials that Jill uses for her works – including coins, glass coins, x-rays and flowers – are all types of artistic mediums that we have never shown in the galleries before,” Hearst said.

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

Magid’s exhibition is on view until March 20.

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