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Medallic Object

Medallic Object.  A work of art inspired by the medallic genre. There are few restrictions on medallic objects or their creation, other than perhaps, they must be permanent, capable of being reproduced, usually made of metal and, in most issues, have multiple sides. Other than that they are as removed from medals, as medals are from coins (which are overburdened with restrictions, as size, weight, denomination, tolerance, height of relief, coinability, vending machine suitability, recognizability, circleness, nationalistic propriety, surface resistivity, shall I go on?). Medallic objects break the rules of coin and medaldesign, go beyond any limitations, transcend any technical restraint, overcome medallic prejudice, all the while becoming interesting, aesthetic objects for the eye to behold.

Usually medallic objects are free-standing; indeed, they have been called “standing medallic art.” But to stand alone is not even a requirement. They are not small statues, they are not upright or overgrown medallions – medallic objects are a new sculptural entity that has yet to find their niche in the art or numismatic world. The painter considers his art in color and shadows. The sculptor considers his art in forms and planes. The medallist considers his art in relief and miniature size. But the creators of medallic objects, while they may be guided by the precepts of these graphic and glyptic arts, are not bound by restrictions of any art.

If medallic objects have sculptural tridemensionality it is only incidental. They are more apt to have relief or two sides, a front and a back (I won’t use the numismatic terms obverse and reverse) for their duodimensionality is often apparent only when shown in photographs (and the field is too new yet to have its own terminology). However, they could have relief designs on more than two sides.

If I had to characterize their form I would say medallic objects are bas-relief unleashed.

Shape and Technique In New Concepts Medallic objects often have unusual shapes or negative space. They go beyond the edges of a prescribed planchet with hyperdimensionality. Very often they have adornments, or as the French say, enrichies; they are enameled, bejeweled, and some practitioners, like Roger Bezombes, have added clothing buttons or made a bird of scissors. Dali made one of table spoons.

Artifacts of any kind – found or fashioned – are fair game for embellishing medallic objects. Set free the artist’s imagination. Unleashed is the operative word. Medallic objects are the modern art of the medallic field.

If the object can be diestruck, that’s fine. If it cannot then it must be cast, that’s okay too. If it has to be assembled or fabricated or soldered together, there is nothing wrong with that either. Technique is dealer’s choice. The only one restriction, mentioned earlier, is important: it must be reproducible for permanent form.

Even the most severe restrictions for preparing coin and medal models – no undercuts and no steep-pitched relief – is negated here. No problem. Eliminate all lettering? That’s permissible. Its all image. But the image must be conveyed in hard form.

Thus medallic objects must be reproducible. They can be fashioned by any method, manufactured by flexible molds or lost wax or ceramicmold or any of a dozen methods of casting or fabricating or even, as stated, by diestriking.

The new genre encourages new ideas, new concepts, new techniques, new ways of doing something within a 500-year-old glyptic art field, and a 2600-year-old numismatic field. We have proof finish coins today because a proof surface was first tried on medals (Pitt Club Medal, London, 1762). The first hologram in a work of art appeared in a medal, Yaacov Agam’s And There Was Light Medal (Israel, 196x). Medallic objects advance the cutting edge of medallic technology, a precursor of new things that can be accomplished, perhaps, for a medal or coin of the future, tried first on a medallic object.

Unleashed Medallic Creations Medallic objects are issued in editions, usually less than 150, sometimes more, occasionally in precious metal, more often in bronze. The bronze is never intentionally left undone, however something is usually wedded to the surface by way of patina, finish or embellishment – or a combination of these.

Creation of the surface, by modeling, carving or making a MODULATED RELIEF in any manner, is only part of the inspirational bloom of medallic objects. It is only the skin. Their creator is never quite satisfied with naked skin. He or she has an entire paint box of techniques and treatments – texture and colors! – that can clothe the newborn creation.

The artist giving birth to a medallic object thus must have a knowledge far above that of, say, a hand engraver or a sculptor creating a coinmodel, or a modeller of a modern medal. Such an artist must possess multiple talents of creative insight and inspiration, plus a wide understanding of spacial relationships, medal manufacturing technology, and metalworking techniques. Thus his ideas must be translated into a hard-form pattern. For his ideal three-dimensional image must be reproducible.

Always this artist must rise above that status of creator/technician and produce an object of his hand and mind that excites the viewer. The results often titillates the devotee of this work. “Wow! Look at that!” is often heard at exhibitions of medallic objects.

Testing Ground for Medalists Appropriately, medallic objects are a testing ground of what can be done in the medallic field, often before it is applied to a formal commission. If the technique works, then that’s fine; it can then be incorporated in a future creation, paid or unpaid, commissioned or on speculation.

If the new technique doesn’t work, that’s fine too. The experiment was tried at an artistic level where it was not necessarily exposed before a jury of medallic peers and five hundred years of art medal heritage, or a couple millimums of coinage heritage. It adds to the artist’s total knowledge. The experience fine tunes the boundaries to which the artist can push the limits of the emerging art. He is advancing toward the cutting edge.

We learn by trying. We advance by failure. Medallic objects are welcomed into the arena wherein the field of medallic art will advance in the future.

The next multipartmedal, or ball-tip arm, or cartwheel rim, or split collar, or reeded edge, or swivel loop, or proof finish, or impressedartifact, or embedded hologram, or multi-ring planchet, or colorized surface, or any of the thousands of developments – large and small – in the field of coin and medal technology is destined to appear first on a medallic object. And so it should be.

Such new innovations come from stretched imaginations. What could be some of these developments of the future? Let your imagination run wild.

Can you bury a sound chip in a medal and have a talking medal? No need for a leaflet–the chip could provide a history, data about the artist, the makers, and the reason for the medal’s issuance. Or simply tell a story, illustrated, of course, by the bas-relief in which it is housed.

How about a new way of attaching a medal to a person, as award, honor, or adornment. (How would you replace the pinback, the ribbon drape, the neck ribbon or the body sash?)

Or a patina on one side smell of, say, burnt wood from the forest fire shown on the obverse, while the reverse gives off the fragrance of the regenerated wild flowers where devastation once occurred.

The inventor of the first medalmade frommetalfabricated in space will reap a fortune.

The artist’s own imagination and innovation prescribe the limits of medallic creations. Unleash the bas-relief is the operative phrase!

American Forays Into Medallic Objects  In 1965 an experiment was conducted in New York City, perhaps ahead of its time. The art publication Art In America commissioned a curator then at the Whitney Museum, Edward Bryant, to manage a project of reproduced bas-relief. He sought out William Trees Louth at the Medallic Art Company for the intended replications. The two literally had to invent a new art form!

Choosing seven contemporary sculptors their instructions to them were explicit: express yourself in a bas-relief without restraint that can be reproduced (sound familiar?). The seven reliefs ranged from a traditional Salome (by Elbert Weinberg) to a recasting and rearranging a newspaper printer’s plate (by the Greek-American artist Chryssa). The others were quite contemporary: James Wines’ Art and the Machine, Harold Tovish’s Meshed Faces, Constantino Nivola’s Classical Gods, Roy Gussow’s Water Over The Edge of a Pool, and Ernest Trova’s Falling Man.

Each work was reproduced in an edition of eight in 12- to 15-inch size (sound familiar?). Tovish and Nivola’s work were also reproduced in smaller, medallic sizes and formats, even gold pins to be worn. To the credit of the craftsmen at Medallic Art, they knew which to cast by molds, which to reproduce by electrogalvanic casting, which to make into dies and strike.

But what is most notable were the finishes. Gussow’s galvano in copper was chromiumplated and highly polished. Nivola’s galvano was bronzeplated with black oxidized patina. Tovish’s Meshed Faces with three surface levels was given three finishes: the wide border was French antiqued, the faces in the center were reflectively polished, but the background was manually textured. (Foreman of the finishing department could not satisfy a demanding Trovish with sample textures until the craftsman, perhaps in desperation, picked up a beer can opener and etched random pattern of impressed line design in the backgroundcoppersurface.  “That’s it!” shouted Trova.)

A later foray for American artists in the new media was Roy Lichtenstein’s Salute To Airmail and Sidney Simon’s Five Heads Plaquette. But these were created in 1968. American artists did little until shown by the French the extensive possibilities of the fresh media. The French, it can be said to the chagrin of the Americans, beat all world artists, including the Americans, to the patent office to lock up the title of innovators of the new invention.

French Mint Influence Credited As old or as young as they are, medallic objects have not yet come of age. Roger Bezombes created his first medallic object in 1966. France, and particularly the Paris Mint, has been their incubator. The Paris Mint’s greatest 20th century Mint Director, Pierre DeHaye, certainly had the most profound influence, and should be given much credit for the development of medallic objects.

His artists and craftsmen were creating a new medallic object every new day for the latter part of his tenure as head of the Paris Mint!

Quite reasonably it can be said, the Paris Mint has encouraged the infant art form and helped it along. It has enabled medallic artists to have a free hand in trying something new without restraints that their creation must be commemorative, or celebratory, or memorializing, or honorary, or even pretentious, or whatever the cumulative scope of what a medal must be.

Since credit has now been given to the Paris Mint, we can also acknowledge the international organization of medalists and medal publishers, Fédération Internationale de la Médaille (F.I.D.E.M.). Their biannual conclaves have become showcases of what medalists from around the world are currently producing.

What once was biannual displays of circular and nearly square objects has now become a plethora of irregular shapes and medallic formats of great variety. Virtually all new work displayed in medallic exhibitions – F.I.D.E.M. internationally, American Medallic Sculpture Association in America, and similar organizations in Canada, England, Netherlands, Finland and in other countries – can be classed as medallic objects.

New Art to Live With The new media is an ideal collectible. But they are not intended for the collector’s cabinet – to co-exist with medallic art of past years. More often they will be found on the mantel, tabletop, bookcase, desktop, or other decorative spot, to be easily seen, never put in a drawer, or, heaven forbid! never in a numismatist’s dark drawer cabinet. They must be displayed to be seen, to be appreciated, to be venerated.

The new media is art to live with, to view as a part of life, of decoration, as perhaps, articles of beauty. Medallic objects are more for the living room or library or museum rather than the cabinet tray. Let them be seen!

Never larger than 15 inches, medallic objects resonate as intimate art. Examined close up, they can best be appreciated within arm’s reach. In this respect they are much like a coin or medal (none, however, require the magnification glass so necessary for coin enthusiasts or worse yet, the microscope that magnify surface scratches to trench-like proportions).

Because they are such a new art, they have yet to be tested in the crucible of the art public. Their acceptance must yet come from both critic and collector. They should be examined for their beauty, their perception, their newness, their desirability, perhaps, in addition to their content.

Medallic objects may have a topic, subject or theme. They may be representational or non objective. They may even be ephemeral medallic beauty – if you wish to call them that – in effect, chewing gum for the eyes.

But should their destiny be assigned to the art field, or to numismatics? To medalists? Or for art collectors? Should their creators be called object medalists? Who will be the market and the makers for the new media?

But For Who? Just what is the charm medallic objects possess? Who wants to own, who wants to acquire these pieces? This is yet to be learned. What we do know is there is wide interests among medallic practitioners around the world. We foresee that once a collector has a taste for medallic objects he will profess addiction.

Like the possession of any collectible, every collector should have one or two medallic objects. Not only will they be conversation pieces for the collector’s guests, friends and fellow collectors but perhaps symbolic of their membership in a world-wide network of enthusiasts bound by the new medallic genre.

While building such a collection, the new owners may be acquiring art objects slightly ahead of their time. The medallic field is positioned for some interesting time ahead; medallic objects will certainly be a forerunner of that interest.


Medallic Object Characteristics   

1)  It Must Be Reproducible.         

2)  It Must Be Attractive (or Not).  

3)  There Are No Restrictions On Its Creation.    

4)  There are No Other Characteristics                  


A25 {1965} Bryant (Edward)  Art In America 53:6 (December– January 1965-66) pp 38-44. 

O45 {1985} Hôtel de la Monnaie.  La Medaille Objet. This catalog of the Paris Mint documented the heyday of Medallic Objects with the work of 124 artists.

O57{2007} Johnson (D.Wayne) Objects of Desire [Medallic Objects] The Numismatist120:9 (September 2007) p 38-42, illus.   

O59  {2010} Maier (Nicolas)  French Medallic Art, 1870-1940. Munich: Author (2010)  415 pp, illus, in three languages: German, English, French. 


excerpted with permission from

An Encyclopedia of Coin and Medal Technology

For Artists, Makers, Collectors and Curators


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