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Author: Mark Banks

The Colours of Money

Updated Friday, 10th October 2008

An innovative way of funding new artists - or a risky investment? Can you bank on artmoney?

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 ‘Where any view of money exists’, wrote William Blake, ‘art cannot be carried on’, giving lie to this claim is Danish artist Lars Kraemmer who founded the Bank of International Artmoney (BIAM) in 1997. Situated in the Copenhagen suburb of Frederiksberg, the ‘Bank’ is both gallery and clearing house for the production and circulation of ‘artmoney’, an alternative currency now traded by around 1000 artists, buyers and businesses around the globe.

Struck by the recognition that everyone is trying to ‘make money’, but no-one literally does, Kraemmer saw the production of artmoney as a practical means of stimulating trade amongst struggling artists who couldn’t otherwise afford to pay their rent or buy art materials – a modern revival of traditional bartering.  But also critical of the cold and objective nature of conventional transactions, Kraemmer devised artmoney as a means to a more humanised and ‘expressive’ type of monetary exchange. Not only was each artmoney to be designed as a unique work of art, but was intended to bring people together in affective, rather than impersonal, forms of trade.

Artmoney can be produced by anyone registered with BIAM and, like conventional currencies, has some standard rules of design. Artmoney must measure 12x18 cm (in order that it resembles a banknote) and only durable materials may be used. Each piece of artmoney must show a serial number, the year of production, the url for BIAM and the name, signature and nationality of the artist. The only other proviso is that artmoney must be an original work of art. Like conventional currency, artmoney has a market price. Each piece of artmoney is purchased for 200 Danish Kroner (about £20 or 26 Euro) and increases in value by 5 Euro per year for 7 years, with the increase in value being redeemable only when purchasing art from artmoney artists. When spending artmoney in other places, each piece retains its original value, regardless of the year of production – inflation being accounted for by periodic revaluations (when launched ten years ago each piece was worth 100 Kroner).

Front of Artmoney example
Art Money No 177 (front image)
by Birthe Lindhart

Artmoney - back example
Art Money No 177 (back image)
by Birthe Lindhart


Once produced, artmoney can then be used like standard currencies. It can be used in exchange for goods and services (Kraemmer claims to have bought his stereo, computer and fridge with artmoney and used it to finance a trip around America).  Currently around 50 registered businesses (including cafés and bars, galleries, various retailers, even a psychotherapist) also accept artmoney as part payment for goods and services, at a rate determined by the individual business. There is also a host and guest programme where artmoney can be used to pay for travel accommodation.

But why would conventional businesses accept non-legal tender? According to Kraemmer, traders may be motivated by the opportunity to own a piece of original art,  touched by a desire for more meaningful exchange relations or simply amused by the quirkiness of the concept. As the BIAM website idealistically claims, using artmoney to pay for goods and services ‘will help bring people together in an intimate private situation’, offering ‘the chance for new friendships among strangers from all over the world’. And while it might be some time before we see Asda and B&Q accepting artmoney, the number of firms buying into this sentiment is steadily rising. 

the purpose of artmoney is to make art accessible and money meaningful

But is artmoney art? There is no denying the beauty and craft of artmoney (and that exhibitions of artmoney have proved popular with the critics and attracted collectors) – but since anyone can produce it (providing they stick to the given rules) there is plenty of artmoney in circulation in which even the most generous of critics would struggle to identify any artistic merit. For BIAM, such concerns are beside the point – the purpose of artmoney is to make art accessible and money meaningful. Bringing art into the hitherto mundane world of exchange helps overcome the modern separation of ‘art’ and ‘everyday life’ and also restores a sense of creativity, uniqueness and humanity in the exchange relationship. Stimulated into conversation by simple acts of ‘natural’ exchange, people become part of something communitarian and internationalist in focus – in this respect individual artistic ability is less important than using art to enhance sociability and communication.

Currently, however, it seems artmoney is in fiscal crisis. The project suffers from a surfeit in the ‘money supply’ but a shortage of ‘aggregate demand’ - indeed the project is in some danger of folding. Funds are also required since BIAM is currently embroiled in legal disputes with Danish authorities over the legitimacy of its use of the term ‘Bank’; a problem which highlights that the (now jail-threatened) Kraemmer has achieved at least one of his aims – to expose the politicised character of finance by challenging the state monopoly on the production of money.

So while in this time of credit crunch and impending recession, the idea of playing the currency markets might not appeal, people could speculate on a little artmoney. They would be helping artists and may well get themselves a mini-masterpiece - and if not they could always try and spend it on something else.

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