If Crass Sells, Who’s Buying?

No one needs to tell Brent Holmes that his art has currency

You can say this about Brent Holmes’ third solo exhibit, Crass Doesn’t Sell: The collaged multimedia images sure catch your attention. Each piece focuses on a particular currency, combining sexualized photos with polemic phrases and socioeconomic aspects of the currency’s culture.

In “Riyal,” a scrawny model is featured in a soiled robe and dirty underwear, surrounded by imagery of Saudi Arabia’s currency.

In “Peso,” a blockhead of a man stands proudly, bare-chested and bursting out of his shorts, determined to saw off his wooden masculinity with a chainsaw. “The image of self-castration is how I view the unequal relationship between Mexico and the United States fiscally,” Holmes says. “People risk their lives to come to this country for the couple of bucks more that they can make.” Fittingly, the wording on the piece reads, “It all seems so paltry and pitiful upon further examination.”

In “Piso,” a topless temptress shakes her moneymaker in a fantastical Champagne room, overlapped by the phrase, “Trickle me down, baby.” It’s a reference to the stamp of a micro-loan program that Holmes found on some bills from the Philippines. “I thought it was a good example of a trickle-down ideal, as opposed to typical trickle-down examples,” Holmes says.

Clearly, all is not right in Holmes’ imagined universe. The photographs themselves look slickly alluring, if somewhat disturbing (what’s with all the masks?). But the phrases layered over them and the images from various world currencies rip the viewer from the fantasy that the images create. Taken on the whole, Crass looks like an American Express ad campaign from Bizarro World.

Holmes, a 33-year old graphic designer for Desert Companion magazine, says the concept for the exhibit came out of a disagreement with an artist friend about whether sexualized artwork sells in the high-end art market. At that level, the commercial value of art appears to trump everything else, which got Holmes thinking about art as money. He was soon incorporating a commerce-based visual element into his images. That led him to researching various world currencies, including the origins of their symbols and iconography. Holmes even visited a currency exchange. He then penciled, inked and photoshopped phrases and expressions into his work, pitching in his two cents, if you will, regarding art and money. In viewing Crass, you get the idea that he’s commenting on how money is evil and can lead you to soiled slothfulness or, even worse, exploitation or self-castration.

All things said, you may have mixed feelings trading your money for the chance to bring home Holmes’ work. Not to worry, he has set up his own currency exchange on premises. You trade your dollars for his invented bills, called Kotlacs, and then you may purchase whatever you like with those. And purchase you can. His 24-by-36-inch prints go for $700 and 18-by-24-inch copies are $300. You can buy postcards for $10 a piece or six for $30 (when you buy all six, they flip over to compose a seventh, surprise work).

We don’t know how much that is in Kotlacs.

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