Funny money 

Eminent, yet enigmatic, Numismatic Association event throws newcomer for a loop

click to enlarge Tsunami 2004 ... one unique medal.
  • Tsunami 2004 ... one unique medal.

Our city is hosting the 30th FIDEM Art Medal World Congress in September. Do not worry if you have never heard of FIDEM. Neither had I until a few weeks ago.

Here's what I found out:

The last time this federation of artists came to the States was 20 years ago. Since then, venues including the British Museum and The Hague have hosted it.

The exhibit associated with this year's congress features artists from 32 countries, from the United States to Portugal to Japan.

One of the featured pieces is made of bread.

For one corner of the art world, this event is as big as it gets.

Excited as I was by all of this, I didn't know what to think when I also learned the following:

The museum hosting the event is the American Numismatic Association's Money Museum. And numismatic is sort of a fancy word for coin collecting.

The 15-inch rule

Stick with me here.

I'm invited to the Money Museum to check out some of the works that will appear in The Medal is the Message: Global Ideas in Hand-Held Sculpture, the exhibition that will be unveiled at the congress. (It will remain at the museum until well into next year.) I haven't bothered to find out what FIDEM is, and have no idea what to expect.

I confess to RyAnne Scott, a staff writer and editor with the ANA, that during my four years in the Springs, I've never visited the Money Museum. She assures me I'm not alone.

"I think one of the things that people assume about the museum is that it is just money," says Scott. "But there really is an artistic side to it."

I'm led to a conference room, and in the corner I see what looks like a dinner cart. Arranged on the cart, released from their bubble-wrap, are several pieces ranging in size from golf ball to dinner plate.

As Scott tries to explain the exhibition, I bend down to examine a particular item. The tag says, "Tsunami 2004." It looks like a cloth coin purse, blue with a red zipper. Stitched to the top are what look like three witches' hats, also blue, one behind the other, increasing in size. Inside, I see a cluster of sticks and debris.

Next, I look at a pink square wrapped in clear plastic. A strip of cardboard is stapled to the top with a hole in the center, as if to be hung up at the grocery store. On one side, the card reads, "I wake up in the morning," and then on the back, "and I wonder if I see you."

click to enlarge Indeed, a few FIDEM medallic works are actually metallic.
  • Indeed, a few FIDEM medallic works are actually metallic.

Thematically, the works cover a broad spectrum: slavery, destruction, music. There are portraits and dynamic scenes, abstract designs and overtly political messages.

They're made of resin, glass, plastic, ceramics, computer chips. Many of the pieces are metal.

By this point, Scott has explained to me that the FIDEM congress, held every other year, seeks to celebrate and promote a rather misunderstood artistic area.

"A lot of times when you think of medals, you think Olympics or Nobel Prize or some sort of military honor, but really since the 1970s, artists have broken away from that," Scott says. "Scale is really the only thing that ties [the pieces] together."

Suddenly, I'm reminded that all these pieces really are parts of a show about medals. (Turns out, FIDEM is the acronym for the International Medal Federation.) I struggle to understand what this art has to do with medals. Only a couple of the two dozen objects look anything like what I think of as a medal.

According to Scott, there is no widely agreed-upon definition of what a medal is. An article in the September Numismatist says that the only standard is that the pieces be smaller than 15 inches in any direction.

D. Wayne Johnson, author of the article, goes on to say that "medallic objects ... are best appreciated when handheld and viewed from every angle ... In this respect, they are unlike coins or medals."

Basically, these pieces are what they are compelling works of art even if they have very little to do with what most of us think of as "medals." "Medallic objects" is a wonderful term because it really doesn't mean anything to anyone.

The bottom line

This year's congress is themed "Passages to Reconstruction." Scott explains to me that the artists were asked to submit pieces that deal with or interpret the numerous natural disasters that have occurred in the past couple years.

During the one night that the congress will open its doors to the public, many of the artists will be on hand to discuss their work and perhaps shed some light on the world of art medal.

One such artist, Otakar Dusek of the Czech Republic, has two pieces in the show, including the one made of bread. He will present a lecture during the congress called "Reflections: Artistic Freedom in the Czech Republic," a country with a strong tradition of medallic art, says Scott.

Now I've done some research and looked at these pieces. I still don't really understand what "medallic art" means ... so I've decided to just drop the medallic part and tell myself that this is an art exhibit.

It's also an opportunity to meet with an impressive group of international artists, and the works on display are truly unique and aesthetically appealing.

Anyone can appreciate that. scene@csindy.com

An International Celebration of the Arts: Community reception and opening celebration for The Medal is the Message: Global Ideas in Hand-Held Sculpture

Sept. 21, 4-5:30 p.m. at American Numismatic Association's Money Museum (818 N. Cascade Ave.). 5:45-9 p.m. at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center (30 W. Dale St.), including Dusek's lecture.

Event is free, with a suggested donation of $25 to support the Money Museum and the Colorado Springs Conservatory.

To request tickets, e-mail meetings@money.org with your name, address, phone number and the number of tickets you would like, or call 482-9857. To learn more about workshops open to the public on a space-available basis, visit money.org.


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