It’s official: Dan Tague is the bill-fold guy. The New Orleans artist deftly pleats greenbacks, origami-style, to produce new national mottoes to supplement “In God We Trust.” Tague included such pieces in his 2011 show at Civilian Art Projects, and there are two more in his current exhibition there, “Independence in the Age of Decadence.” But his folding work reached a much larger audience recently when it was featured in the New Yorker’s money issue.
It might take Tague years to establish a reputation for doing anything other than photographs of bills twisted to yield such slogans as “Resistance is Futile” (seen in this show) or “Trust No One” (in the New Yorker). But that’s just a small part of what he does. Tague’s droll and sometimes provocative Civilian show features a chandelier that incorporates a decommissioned World War II-era bomb, a collection of molotov cocktails using Simpsons and SpongeBob SquarePants vessels and a partially burned piece that features a lyric from the Smiths’ “How Soon Is Now?” (Both the song and the line are among the band’s most famous.) The artist also expands his greenback repertoire by incorporating the heads of Washington and Lincoln, as engraved for the currency, into photo collages. Think talk is cheap? A copy of “We Know What’s Best for You,” a one-hour sound piece that’s installed in the gallery’s bathroom, can be had for only 20 bucks.
Tague’s previous Civilian show included several works inspired by environmental disasters in New Orleans and the nearby Gulf of Mexico. Perhaps because it’s election season, this show focuses more on national affairs. But there are a few D.C. references. A stars-and-stripes banner made from punk-rock T-shirts includes one featuring Minor Threat, the 1980s hard-core band whose music became one of the city’s major cultural exports. A mock advertisement, “Corporate Reality,” offers three downtown landmarks for sale: the Washington Monument, the White House and — the only one of the trio that might actually go on the block — the Corcoran Gallery of Art. For Tague, following the money involves more than maxims and iconography. He’s interested in nothing less than the influence of political and financial power.
Also at Civilian is “Found Images,” a selection of Frank DiPerna’s photographs of man-made pictures in the real world. These range from graffiti and painted backdrops to advertising in its myriad forms. Made in Italy and Mexico and on the American East Coast, the photos are skillfully composed to contrast their flat and 3-D elements. The local artist and Corcoran professor often captures artworks and posters behind some sort of obstacle, such as the portable barricade he found in front of a reproduction of a Renaissance painting in Florence. The foreground object can be as apt as the real foliage growing in front of a nature-scene mural, or as simple as a small handmade ad for apartments, pasted over the crotch of the model in an Italian lingerie billboard. If such juxtapositions make you look twice, that’s probably what DiPerna has in mind — and not just when gazing at his photos.