A Performance Artist Will Be Handing Out $500 in Sanitized $1 Bills on a Literal Silver Platter in the Hamptons

The performance is a comment on contagion and economic inequality.

Katherine McMahon sanitizing currency for Free Clean Money. Photo by Jessica Dalene.
Katherine McMahon sanitizing currency for Free Clean Money. Photo by Jessica Dalene.

Artist Katherine McMahon and musician Ray Angry will tap into widespread fears about viral contamination, as well as deepening frustrations with economic inequality, in a performance that will debut this summer at Guild Hall in East Hampton, New York.

For the work, titled Free Clean Money, McMahon will give away $500—all in $1 bills sprayed down with Lysol and presented on silver platters—while a composition by Angry titled “The Protest,” which is inspired by the recent George Floyd demonstrations, plays in the background. (Guild Hall will not be charging admission for the event.)

“It’s a statement about privilege, consumerism, and the circulation of money,” McMahon told Artnet News. “One person could take all of it… maybe no one will take it.”

The Hamptons, of course, are a bastion of economic and cultural privilege, and many of the richest New Yorkers who fled the city in recent months took off for their summer homes in the wealthy enclave.

Ray Angry, "The Protest." Courtesy of the artist.

Ray Angry, “The Protest.” Courtesy of the artist.

“Money is this powerful antidote to pain and suffering. It equals power and freedom, but certain people have way too much of it, and way too many people don’t have enough of it,” McMahon said. “You can look around and see what’s happening and how rigged the system is.”

“The images and symbols that appear on our currency aren’t meaningless,” she added, noting that “George Floyd was arrested because of an alleged counterfeit $20,” which features the face of former President Andrew Jackson, who was a slaveowner.

Katherine McMahon sanitizing currency for <em>Free Clean Money</em> a performance art piece with Ray Angry that will be staged later this summer at Guild Hall in East Hampton, New York. Photo by Jessica Dalene.

Katherine McMahon sanitizing currency for Free Clean Money. Photo by Jessica Dalene.

“We wanted to explore the perceived need versus the desire for currency, and the quandaries that arise when money is offered in an unconventional way without the obligation of repayment,” she said. “What are the systems in place that keep money circulating in lopsided ways?”

Free Clean Money won’t take place until the Hamptons enter stage four of New York’s phased reopening plan, which will allow museums and other cultural organizations to welcome the public.

Earlier this year, McMahon, who is also the programming director at the Elaine de Kooning House in East Hampton, staged a drive-by art exhibition inside the windows of the Silver Lining Diner in Southhampton. She split the proceeds of sales of her diner-inspired paintings with the business.

Katherine McMahon and Ray Angry, Free Clean Money a performance art piece giving away $500 at Guild Hall in East Hampton, New York. Photo by Jessica Dalene.

Katherine McMahon and Ray Angry, Free Clean Money a performance art piece giving away $500 at Guild Hall in East Hampton, New York. Photo by Jessica Dalene.

The project with Angry, a keyboardist, producer, and composer who has collaborated with the Roots, Elvis Costello, Patti Labelle, and others, represents a new direction for McMahon, who is primarily a painter.

“I felt like using money as a medium to express what I was feeling would be more powerful than me painting money,” she explained. “There was a desire to let the money speak when I don’t necessarily have the words.”

“The irony,” McMahon added, “is that money is never free and it’s never clean.”


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