Sunday, February 03, 2008

Money Museum

At a time of uncertainty — as the market quavers, the dollar sinks, sub-prime lenders go belly up, and the Federal Reserve Bank rapidly twists its dials — money becomes more puzzling and more unpredictable, demanding closer scrutiny. So while opening the Museum of American Finance on Wall Street last month might at first have seemed like bad timing — like buying a stock at its top, or selling at its bottom — there was actually no better moment to mount this tribute to the “forces that have made New York City the financial capital of the world” (as one of the museum’s displays puts it). And if our city’s status and the currency that backs it are more contested than they once were, that only makes the enterprise more urgently intriguing.
In fact, the museum was founded just after the 1987 market crash, because John Herzog, chairman of a trading firm that has since become part of Merrill Lynch, said he felt that there was no “institutional memory” on Wall Street. Moments of crisis require that expanded perspective, and, as the museum’s founding shows, they also inspire it...
One display reminds us that Willie Sutton famously explained that he robbed banks “because that’s where the money is.” But we come to this former bank to see exactly what money is — and what America has made of it. That doesn’t really happen. But enough is seen so that money starts to seem less like a material object than like something more ethereal, affected by sea winds and psychology, faith and risk. And at this uncertain moment its mysterious powers seem all the more uncanny: it’s a perfect time to see it in action. This museum is not a bad place to start. The Museum of American Finance is open Tuesdays through Saturdays at 48 Wall Street, Lower Manhattan; (212) 908-4110 or More Articles in Arts »

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