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Boggs: A Comedy of Values

Boggs: A Comedy of Values

by Lawrence Weschler
When an artist draws currencies and looks for merchants who will accept his artwork in lieu of cash, he regularly lands in trouble with treasury police around the globe. 40 halftones.


When an artist draws currencies and looks for merchants who will accept his artwork in lieu of cash, he regularly lands in trouble with treasury police around the globe. 40 halftones.

Editorial Reviews

Howard Davies
Boggs is an artist of sorts: one with a talent for drawing precise copies of banknotes. So precise are they that the Bank of England took him to court ten years ago for counterfeiting. (He was acquitted by a sympathetic jury, in spite of a hostile summing-up by the judge.) Whatever the legal status of his work, straightforward counterfeiting is not Boggs's game now, if it ever was. He does not seek to pass off drawings as authentic notes but he does seek to spend them.
The Times
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Just what is money worth? Or, what is the value of value? Funny questions, maybe, but they are central to the figure at the heart of Weschler's latest paper chase of a profile. J.S.G. Boggs is a slow-change artist. He draws legal tender--with varying degrees of realism--and attempts to spend it: at restaurants, hotels, airports, convenience stores and galleries around the world. He has been arrested for his aesthetic endeavors, stalked by British treasury cops, had his work confiscated by the Secret Service and been detained by baffled proprietors. Boggs's art--a brand of conceptual performance with roots in Duchamp and Warhol--is contingent upon the abysses of logic that open up when people are asked to accept his counterfeit bills not as actual money (Boggs isn't a con man), but as art. As art, of course, they are worth something. An anomaly, if not a minor celebrity, in certain corners of the art world, Boggs serves Weschler well as a springboard for thoughts on the protean nature of both art and money. With meandering brilliance and levity, Weschler delves not only into the outlandish antics of Boggs the provocateur, but also into the history of banking, the development of paper money and the valuation of art. One of the great, and usually convincing, spinners of true tales that seem tall, Weschler writes in an erudite yet nimble style--itself a great service to the popularization of ideas. (June) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Weschler, a New Yorker writer who has written books on idiosyncratic, eccentric individuals (Mr. Wilson's Cabinet of Wonders, LJ 10/1/95), here turns his attention to J.S.G. Boggs, an American artist who specializes in drawing money. Boggs not only creates these art works but also exchanges them for food, goods, etc.; the transaction itself (including receipts and change received) makes up the complete work of art that is ultimately exhibited in galleries. The book studies Boggs's career and artistic theories, focusing on his run-ins with officials of the Bank of England and U.S. Treasury agents who take a dim view of his copies of their currency. Also examined are the depictions of money by other artists over the centuries and how Boggs's obsession reflects the relationship between money, art, and value. Recommended for all larger library collections, particularly those that specialize in modern art studies.--Morris Hounion, New York City Technical Coll., CUNY Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Chronicles the antics of J.S.G. Boggs, an artist who draws realistic paper notes in the denominations of standard currencies from all over the world, and then tries to spend the drawings as money. Instead of selling his money drawings outright to interested collectors, Boggs looks for merchants who will accept his drawings in lieu of cash payment. Follows Boggs through counterfeiting charges and currency capers, from galleries to the courtroom, and raises questions on the history of money and systems of value. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknew.com)
The book, like the artist, challenges people to pause and consider the extent to which the economic bedrock of everyday life is inpart a confusing welter of artistic abstractions. It's a work that is at once informative, entertaining, and provocative—a reading experience, one might say, of rather good value.

Atlantic Monthly

Mark Swartz
For 15 years, J.S.G. Boggs has asked people to accept his deliberately unrealistic-looking homemade money... He prefaces every transaction with the statement that the bills are not legal tender... In Switzerland, he says, they almost always take him up on his offer, though in Italy they almost never do.
Chicago Reader
Kirkus Reviews
J.S.G. Boggs, the artist who draws money, is revisited by New Yorker staffer Weschler (Mr. Wilson's Cabinet of Wonder, 1995; Calamities of Exile, 1998; etc.). Boggs's artistry involves transactions in which he exchanges his handmade copies of currency, at face value, for goods and services. There's no trickery. The bills aren't tendered as real; they are just his rendition of money. But that's not the extent of his inventiveness. Boggs then sells to art collectors any change received and sufficient details so'that the eager collectors can hunt down and buy the graven images—at considerably more than face value. Thus, the base materials of paper and ink are transformed into sweet lucre, fetching well into six figures in the secondary market. Everyone should be delighted with the unique spondulix artistry, if not the metaphysics of the thing. Nevertheless, certain numismatic authorities worldwide have taken a dim view of Boggs and his issuances (which are surely more like marketed derivatives than crass counterfeits). The US Treasury has shown extreme interest. The central part of the book (which is a reworking of earlier essays) recounts the trial at the Old Bailey wherein the Bank of England charged Boggs with the crime of reproducing Her Majesty's money—despite the fact that the accused drew original works, while pound notes are simply numbered engravings. As courtroom reporter, Weschler relishes the legal antics. He also offers a brief profile of his protagonist, a history of trompe l'oeil portraits of folding money, and a quick review of the philosophy and history of cash. Like his fellow New Yorker, the late Joseph Mitchell, he does it in lapidary style. An intelligent,ironic, and entertaining text about making money, from an accomplished reporter. (illustrations)

Product Details

University of Chicago Press
Publication date:
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
5.00(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.70(d)

Meet the Author

Lawrence Weschler, a recipient of the prestigious Lannan Literary Award for 1998, is the author of numerous books, including Calamities of Exile: Three Nonfiction Novellas, and Mr. Wilson's Cabinet of Wonder, which was a finalist for both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award.

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