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Greed For Greediness' Sake

The Inspiration

Bicipuerca by Alexander Morales Núñez

Vicki & Kent Logan Atrium, Denver Art Museum

Denver, CO

The Matter

I think what drew me to this piece first and foremost was how the style calls out to one of my favorite animators, Bill Plympton. The distorted shapes and lines, the rough surfaces, and the somewhat absurd restyling of a common, everyday object are all hallmarks of Plympton's aesthetic. Though I don't know whether Núñez drew inspiration from Plympton, I appreciate that the familiarity drew me in because this piece spoke to me. (Which, I suppose, is a given since I'm writing a post about it.)

In his vivid painting, Núñez gives us a giant, pig-shaped bicycle and calls it Bicipuerca. Though I was initially disappointed that the info card sheds no light on what the artist was thinking, I ultimately found some liberation in pondering its meaning without any such guidance. Forming one's own opinions independent of any added insight can be quite revealing.

The hulking monstrosity takes a slim, simple object and transforms it into a massive, cumbersome vehicle that I question whether anyone could even ride. And this says a lot to me about greed. The desire for more, for bigger, for "better," even if it's so grand as to become counterproductive or useless (a la those grand suburban mansions with twice as many bedrooms as there are extended family members).

Whether we like it or not, studies have shown that acquiring begets greed which begets more greed. I can recall one such study where participants were asked to play Monopoly. What they saw was how players transformed with great severity the more ground they gained on their opponents. Players in the lead were more ruthless: once-equitable deals vanished in favor of lopsided trades that put the losing player at an even greater disadvantage than they already were. Bankers who were ahead of their competition actually became more likely to cheat than bankers who were on even ground or straggling behind everyone else.

This painting shows us where that downward spiral into greed empties out. It turns us into beasts who want for the sake of wanting. We must widen the gap so far and so extremely that it becomes not just unwieldy but almost inefficacious. That the artist used a bicycle as this symbol of feckless greed says to me that no one is immune to the power and appeal of the desire for more and more and more. Maybe the choice of a bicycle points to the fact that children are driven by their ID even more than adults are, and so perhaps Núñez believes children are even more susceptible to the throes of avarice than adults.

Pondering my days in high school where cliques and small groups of like-minded youths ostracized and belittled those with less (actual or perceived), I would have to say he may be onto something.

The hard part, then, is to maintain a level head if/when we push through the thick and resistant waves of society to find some measure of success. As we build these personal empires of ours, we should fight against the darker spots within for success within the parameters of what fills our spirit, not our accounts. We should seek nourishment from what we accomplish as opposed to from more of more of more of more.

I recently traveled and saw my money drain with great expeditiousness from my reserves. But it didn't arrest me in the way that it has in the past, when it's bled out from my purchasing clothes or furniture or knick-knacks, those "unnecessaries," so to speak. This gave me pause.

I have a new theory that the key to beating back that self-feeding, perpetually-inflating greed (bi)cycle (bicipuerca?) is to spend your money on experiences instead of things, unless the things you're buying are tied to needs. Things rarely enrich you, but experiences have that grand power in most cases. If we can find a balance between owning things for owning things' sake versus experiencing life and cultures and people, then I believe we can stay astride our nimble bicycles and leave the bicipuercas to the billionaires who never stop looking for more to add to their already bloated bellies.

The Art

Greed's Reward

by jpk

What does your greed get you?

A bloated coffer with a bloated heart

Straining and failing to continue to beat

With humanity waning. It's just too hard

No longer mobile, stagnancy sets in

The spirit rots and molds and fades

Pools of emotion dry up and vanish

Was that really a worthwhile trade?

You let it loose; it adorns your neck

A fancy and glitzy muffler to behold

That tightens its grip and you smile

Don't let them see the pain of that stranglehold

It's all you've ever dreamed about

Despite it's guarantee to do you in quite well

So you won't go back to squalor now

Though this greed slowly drags you to hell

The Portrait