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Mark Wagner


B. 1971

Mark Wagner is best known for his intricate collages made entirely from deconstructed U.S. dollar bills. Wagner meticulously, and audaciously cuts up thousands of banknotes yearly to create works that pointedly and playfully explore the intersection of wealth, power, value, and American identity. Many of his pieces feature allegorical scenes, comical play-on-words, or portraits, like the almighty dollar’s famous face and founding father, George Washington. Wagner states, “The one-dollar bill is the most ubiquitous piece of paper in America. Collage asks the question: what might be done to make it something else? It is a ripe material: intaglio printed on sturdy linen stock, covered in decorative filigree, and steeped in symbolism and concept. Blade and glue transform it – reproducing the effects of tapestries, paints, engravings, mosaics, and computers – striving for something bizarre, beautiful, or unbelievable . . . the foreign in the familiar.”

Wagner has worked with an array of U.S. dollar bills and foreign currencies since 1999, and while he loves the colors and variety they offer, most of his work is now done with the one-dollar bill because of its versatility and abundance. It is also the only banknote that hasn’t been redesigned since it was finalized in 1963 and has retained its “baroque” elements. Wagner says, “It’s still got leaves on it, it’s still got tendrils, it’s still got weird little Masonic symbols of the Great Seal on the back. The higher denominations are stripped down and modernized. There’s not a leaf on them.” The portrait of George Washington on the one-dollar bill also has not been airbrushed, unlike portraits on contemporary denominations. It features Gilbert Stuart’s historic portrait of Washington, who has become the emotionless actor in many of Wagner’s pieces. The imagery, mode, and medium of collage borderline on absurdity as Wagner carefully balances playfulness and contemplation. 

Using banknotes may seem expensive, but Wagner is extremely careful with his money and utilizes every scrap. For example, his piece, Fluctuation in Cultural Currency, was crafted with only three one-dollar bills. Wagner painstakingly applied glue with a brush and positioned each small piece of money so it did not overlap much, making currency a cheaper artistic material than oil paint. In essence, Wagner cuts out the middleman when it comes to his materials, making another statement on the economics of art. Collector Davis Riemer further elaborates on Fluctuation, stating that the piece “illustrates the way many people can feel when investment markets turn volatile – a bit unfocused, woozy, unstable, even a little ill.” Wagner utilizes classic craft and visual manipulation to create significant meaning for the viewer.

Wagner’s work has been collected by numerous institutions, including the Smithsonian Institution, the Library of Congress, and the Museum of Modern Art, New York. He has also exhibited at The Metropolitan Museum, The Getty Research Institute, and the National Portrait Gallery, among other museums and cultural venues. Wagner’s collages have been featured in Time, Newsweek, Harpers, and Art in America magazines and on CBS and PBS. He holds a BFA from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and currently lives and works in Lancaster, PA.


Myrtle Beach’s Franklin G. Burroughs-Simeon B. Chapin Art Museum strives to be one of the finest visual arts museums in the Carolinas. With 11 galleries that change throughout the year, Myrtle Beach’s only art museum offers exhibitions featuring paintings, textiles, sculpture, photography, video, ceramics, assemblage, collage and more. A visit to the Art Museum’s exhibitions can be enhanced by its lively programming, including artist receptions, tours, lectures, workshops and classes for both adults and children.