John Murphy

An Art of Exchange Featuring an Unknown Young Man from a Painting by Albrecht Dürer


Not on display

John Murphy born 1945
Banknote and transfer lettering mounted on paper
Support: 616 × 527 mm
Purchased 1982

Display caption

These are from a series of works in which Murphy presented German banknotes printed during the inflationary period leading to the collapse of the Deutschmark in 1923. Murphy wanted to make a comparison between aesthetic value and monetary value in art. He also drew a parallel between buying a work of art, and connecting with the ideas behind it so that when you buy a work of art, you also ‘buy in’ to its concept. Murphy deliberately selected banknotes that used images from ‘high art’, thus retaining their artistic status despite the fact that they were now worthless as currency.

Gallery label, May 2003

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Catalogue entry


Inscribed in black ink ‘J M 76’ bottom centre on banknote
Banknote and letraset mounted on paper, 24 1/4 × 20 3/4 (61.5 × 52.7)
Purchased from the artist (Grant-in-Aid) 1982

Murphy makes nearly all his works in series and these [T03343 and T03344] are two from a set of works on paper which make up ‘An Art of Exchange’, which he constructed around eight German banknotes, printed during the inflationary period leading to the collapse of the Deutschmark in 1923. Each work in the series presents a banknote, mounted and framed in gold, with the word ‘Note’ printed above and the title below, in letraset. Each note has been signed and dated by the artist.

Before he found the German notes, which he bought in London, Murphy was already considering ideas for a work based on paper money, wishing to draw a comparison between aesthetic value and monetary value in art-an extension of one of his central themes, the creative process and its relation to desire, as manifest in the wish of artist or audience to possess the art object and, by implication, the ideas that contributed to its making.

By coincidence, Murphy embarked on this series in 1976, the year the British pound was devalued.

The ‘Art of Exchange’ works refer particularly to exchange in relation to the buying and selling of works of art. Interviewed by the artist and critic, Jon Thompson (Aspects no.9, op.cit.), Murphy said of the series, 'I wanted to make the obvious point about valuation as connoted by money changing hands but I also wanted to point to the exchange which takes place in terms of ideas. The person who buys a work of art, in connecting with it, in desiring it, in possessing it, is desiring, connecting with, possessing the ideas in the work also. In fact, a number of interesting connections between art and money emerged as I thought the piece through. For instance, the notion of floating value; certain artists are resurrected as a part of the system of currency in a particular period because they serve the ideology of that period. With this in mind, the first task I set myself was to find banknotes employing images from “high art” ... I did not know when I started thinking about the work that these notes existed and I had no idea that they incapsulated so completely the conceptual material I was dealing with.

'There was a remarkable bonus too in that some of the notes had over printed values because Germany at the time was in hyper-inflation and they couldn't change the face value of the notes to keep pace with this and so they simply over printed them.’

Murphy was pleased to find that some of the German banknotes reproduced portraits by well-known artists (e.g. Dürer, Holbein). Because the notes incorporated reproductions of ‘high art’, they had retained an artistic status despite the fact that they were now worthless as currency. By presenting them, framed, in an art context (a gallery or museum) Murphy has, with minimal intervention (his signature and the date) invested them with a new ‘value’. The artist noted that the portraits on the notes were generally of people involved with commerce and finance; money reproducing art, reproducing money. The notes in T03343 and T03344 are, respectively, 10,000 marks (printed 19 January 1922) and 5,000 marks (printed 19 November 1922). The other notes in the series are:

'An Art of Exchange Featuring Jorg Herz from a Painting by Georg Pencz’ 1976 (Arts Council Collection) originally 1,000 marks, overprinted with 1 milliarde (a billion marks).

'An Art of Exchange Featuring “The Picture Frame”’ or “Egg Note” 1976 (Arts Council Collection). This note was originally worth 50 marks and was printed in 1918.

'An Art of Exchange Featuring a Young Junker from a Painting by an Unknown Artist’.

'An Art of Exchange Featuring Arnold von Brauweiler from a Painting by Bartel Bruyn the Elder’.

'An Art of Exchange Featuring the Merchant Imhoff from a Painting by Albrecht Dürer’.

'An Art of Exchange Featuring the Merchant Gisze from a Painting by Hans Holbein’

The last four works listed still belong to the artist.

Murphy told the compiler that he has yet to obtain the ninth note in the series. (This is a 5,000 mark note featuring Mintmaster Spinelli from a painting by Memling printed 16 September 1922.)

The works in this series which have been exhibited are ‘The Picture Frame’ or ‘Egg Note’ and ‘Arnold von Brauweiler’. The former was exhibited by itself at the Barry Barker Gallery in November 1976 and both works were included among the five Murphys exhibited at the Kunsthalle, Dusseldorf, in an exhibition entitled Museum des Geldes (Museum of Money), November 1978–February 1979.

'The Picture Frame’ and ‘Jorg Herz’ were chosen by Rudi Fuchs for Languages, the travelling exhibition he selected for the Arts Council in 1979 ( catalogue pp.14 and 15). Both these works were afterwards shown at the Hayward Gallery, July–August 1980, in an exhibition of the Arts Council's collection and are reproduced in the catalogue of the Arts Council's permanent collection.

The note referred to by collectors as the ‘Picture Frame’ or ‘Egg Note’, printed in 1918 at a value of fifty marks incorporates an oval framed area on one side. This is the only work in the series where Murphy has intervened beyond the addition of title and signature. In the ‘frame’ he has inscribed in ink a quotation from The Order of Things by Michel Foucault, which reads, ‘before exchange there is nothing but that rare or abundant reality provided by nature; demand on the one hand and relinquishment on the other are alone capable of producing value’.

Unless otherwise stated, this information comes from two conversations with the artist, on 16 July 1982 and 19 February 1983.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1980-82: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1984

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