Living with credit

Sculptor crucifies global consumerism

Tyler Metzger

The “Credit Crucifix” by R. Lloyd Ming.

Some eat at home. Some clip coupons. Some rent instead of buy. And some make crucifixes.

We all have different ways we say no to overconsumption, but sculptor R. Lloyd Ming’s newest work, which features a crucifix made out of credit card logos, takes the act further than your average hyperbolic consumer. Displayed in his recent art show called “I Am Not Chinese,” Ming takes the American Express, Discover, Diners Club, MasterCard and Visa logos and arranges them on a white canvas in the form a crucifix.

He calls the sculpture “Credit Crucifix,” and says it is a statement on American’s dependence on consumerism, and how that dependence has created wealth in China, according to a press release. “America is a nation addicted to credit cards and shopping,” says Ming. “I created this work to encourage dialogue regarding the issue of America’s addiction to consumerism.”

Just 25 of the crosses are for sale at $1,000 a piece. But according to the same press release, but which I have been unable to verify, his work typically sells for $6,000 to $70,000. Why the clearance? He says due to the stuttering economy, a lot of collectors can’t afford art, so he’s giving them an “opportunity to buy something significant yet affordable,” he says.

Another work being featured in his show is “Your American Dream Is Now Ours.” It’s a sculpture of the revolutionary leader Mao Zedong holding an American Express Black Card, which is the most exclusive and expensive credit card in the world. Ah, the originality.

Yet another piece of art on display: Me puking. Ming’s comment to society should read something like this: Please still consume my reduced-priced comment on consumerism, even though consumerism has caused the situation we are in that might inhibit you from consuming it.

Hypocrisy? Yes, but it doesn’t thin there. Last month, Ming made Molotov cocktails, glass bottles filled with a flammable liquid used as improvised bombs, out of Dom Perignon champagne bottles to symbolize China’s wealth as a force against Tibet. “The red, white and blue prayer flags used as a fuse represent American consumerism, which has helped to make China rich,” Ming says.

That’s great, but the problem here: Ming bought the bottles to celebrate every time one of his works sold. He is the very definition of an overindulgent American consumer. He probably even bought that liquor with a credit card.

How about some Louis Vuitton to go with that $200 champagne? Again last month, Ming bought $12,000 worth of Louis Vuitton handbags, cut them in half and did what he knows best — made them into a crucifix. He called the work “Vuitton Crucifix,” and again says it’s commentary on the materialism that’s been created in China. Yawn.

Dude, come on. Really? I’m not an art critic, and I’m not claiming to be one, but this is just too easy. How about the materialism you’re manifesting and perpetuating in the United States? What about all the money that could have been spent on charity efforts to help the causes you are “commenting” on? What about … never mind. It’s just not worth it.

In January, Ming said “I see my role as simply recording our progress as humans for better or worse.” Well Mr. Artist, stop recording and start doing something; you’re making a fool out of yourself.

But still, that leaves the question of what us common folk are supposed to do if we want some credit card art. My wallet, especially right now, can’t support no $1,000 crucifix. What should I do?

First, you can be artsy and frugal by using your plastic as a canvas. Artist J. Kelley takes the promotional credit cards he gets in the mail and paints on the back. He’s painted an angel on one, which he says we could all use nowadays, and a student on another, which he did because he worries about college graduates living with so much debt. The pieces of art are also inexpensive; they range from $79 to $125, so most people can afford them.

Second, you can tailor a card yourself. CreditCovers offers stickers that go over your credit card to stylize them. They’re about $9.95 a piece, and come in a variety of designs to help you show some personality while you consume. You can even submit your own design.

Lastly, you can go the cheapest route of them all: Don’t use your card at all. Be frugal. Eat at home. Clip coupons. Rent instead of buy. Learn some self restraint. And please, please, don’t say you’re doing it for China.

See related: Trend: Designing your own card

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  • Great piece Tyler,
    Well written and insightful. I work with the artist R. Lloyd Ming and he was recently complaining to us about how he would like writers to be more critical of his work. As his first major show he feels that too many people have been reporting on his work without opinion or critique. I sent him this article and it made is month. Thanks and keep up the great work.
    Lisa Zeng – R. Lloyd Ming Studio