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Photograph: Courtesy Josh Sobel

A swirling new installation in Grand Central is made of 2,600 real college diplomas

By one metric, it's the world's most expensive work of art.

Will Gleason
Written by
Will Gleason

If you—for whatever reason—don’t want to think about student loans this weekend, then you’d be well served by steering clear of Grand Central’s Vanderbilt Hall today and tomorrow.

Why, you ask? Oh, just because 2,600 real college diplomas are currently suspended around the hall in a swirling vortex representing the crushing burden of student debt on students across America. You know, just what you want to think about while you’re waiting on a train.

The new artwork, on view in the transit hub through tomorrow, represents more than just a tornado of crippling debt and anxiety. It’s also, by one measure, the world’s most expensive piece of art. 

Da Vinci of Debt
Photograph: Courtesy Josh Sobel

The “value” of the “Da Vinci of Debt” installation was reached by adding together the average cost of each diploma ($180,000 according to Student Loan Hero) which equals $470 million dollars. That’s $20 million more than the price Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvador Mundi sold for in 2017. Sorry, Leo! Maybe if you’d invested in a college education, you’d have higher wages.

And here’s the kicker: Turns out, the organization behind swirling diplomas (they paid people $100 to rent their actual diplomas, by the way) is Natural Light. Yes. That Natty Light. The temporary display is meant to shine a light on their very admirable Natural Light College Debt Relief program which provides $1 million every year to help students with their college debt. There will be 25 recipients of the funds this year and those interested can apply on the official site.

In the meantime, if you’d like to see the diploma-nado and you’re not able to make it to midtown this weekend, you can also check out a full gallery of the installation online.

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