For all arts public and private: Houben R.T. brings out the beauty of legal tender

Art of Statue of Liberty and George Washington by Houben R.T. on legal tender
Houben R.T.’s depiction of the Statue of Liberty and George Washington on legal tender.
DTR Modern Galleries

In the vast and labyrinthine dimension of contemporary art, few artists have managed to encapsulate the intricate dance between history, politics, and aesthetics with as much eloquence and provocation as Houben R.T.

Born in Bulgaria in 1970, Houben Tcherkelov, known in the art world as Houben R.T., has deftly navigated the turbulent currents of identity, symbolism, and cultural memory. His oeuvre, which delves deeply into the evocative power of currency, stands as a testament to his profound comprehension of art’s dual role as both a preserver of history and a catalyst for introspection.

Marking a significant milestone in his career, Houben’s first solo show in New York City will be unveiled on July 11 at DTR Modern Gallery’s second-floor space, promising to captivate and challenge audiences with his latest creations.

Houben’s artistic journey began at the prestigious National Academy of Fine Arts in Sofia, Bulgaria, where he earned his Master of Fine Arts in Painting. There, he first began to explore the potential of visual art to convey powerful narratives.

Houben R.T. depiction of Abraham Lincoln
Houben R.T. depiction of Abraham Lincoln on legal tender.DTR Modern Galleries

In 1996, his burgeoning talent was recognized with a National Endowment for the Arts Award for Residency in New York, a pivotal moment that led him to relocate to the city in 2000. This move marked the beginning of a new chapter in Houben’s career, one that would see him draw on the rich visual languages of both his native Soviet regime and the United States.

Inspired by the use of imagery in currency to forge national identities, Houben embarked on a series of works that recontextualized these familiar symbols. By isolating or repositioning images from various currencies, he creates paintings that are at once lyrically colorful and richly textured.

Houben R.T. depiction of Frida Kahlo
Houben R.T. depiction of Frida KahloDTR Modern Galleries

His approach transforms these images, originally intended to symbolize state power and economic stability, into artworks that celebrate the inherent beauty and historical significance of legal tender.

Houben’s latest series of currency-inspired canvases showcases this transformation with exceptional finesse. By drawing on the visual elements of Deutsche marks, pesetas, and dollar bills, he presents viewers with a fresh perspective on imagery that is instantly recognizable.

The familiar faces and motifs of currency are rendered in a manner that elevates them beyond their mundane origins, highlighting their aesthetic qualities and symbolic weight.

The significance of Houben’s work extends beyond its visual appeal. By repurposing currency imagery, he prompts viewers to reconsider the narratives and ideologies embedded in these everyday objects. In a world where the value of money often overshadows its cultural and historical dimensions, Houben’s art serves as a powerful reminder of the stories and symbols that money carries.

Houben R.T. depiction of Winston Churchill
Houben R.T. depiction of Winston ChurchillDTR Modern Galleries

Houben’s impact is felt not only in his native Bulgaria but also across the international art scene. In 2011, he represented Bulgaria at the 54th Venice Biennale, a prestigious platform that showcased his ability to engage with global audiences. His work has also been exhibited throughout the United States, including at the Bronx Museum, the Brogan Museum in Florida, and the Montclair Museum in New Jersey, among others.

Through his innovative use of currency as both a medium and a subject, Houben R.T. has carved out a unique niche in contemporary art. His work stands as a testament to the power of art to transcend its original context, offering viewers new ways of seeing and understanding the world around them.

By commemorating the rich history, symbolic links, and inherent beauty of legal tender, Houben not only preserves the past but also provokes a deeper reflection on the present.

Houben’s work will be on display at DTR Modern Gallery Soho between July 11 and Aug. 1. Reach out to info@dtrmodern.com for more information and to attend the reception on July 11.