The Money's on Him:
Revolutionary artist J. S. G. Boggs...
I was never good at art. I only took it in high school to fill a credit requirement (much like math) and dropped it when I didn't have to take it anymore. I did like art, but my talents consisted of drawing cartoonish cows and cute, albeit unrealistic, landscapes. So I quickly developed this disdain for art that sold for millions and looked like something I had drawn in kindergarten.
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What is art anyway?
J. S. G. Boggs, a humble man with humble beginnings, challenges our notion of art while making a bold statement about the value that society places on money. It all began almost twenty years ago, when Boggs sat in a diner, doodling on a napkin. The waitress commented on his doodle, noting that it looked like a dollar bill. She offered to pay him for the drawing, but instead, Boggs proposed that he pay for his coffee and donut with the bill. The waitress agreed, and gave him change, since the bill only came to 80 cents. Boggs pondered the transaction. He drew more bills and tried to use them in restaurants and stores. When people refused, he pointed out that the currency we use today is also just drawings on paper. When people bit, Boggs made sure that he received change if change was due, and that he received a receipt. (Usually, only about 10% of people he accosts agree to the exchange.)
There are several collections, some of which have been displayed in galleries across the U.S. The currency always varies, and could pass for real tender except for small liberties Boggs has taken with the designs (some even boast his picture instead of a dead president's mug), and the fact that they are printed on one side only. The bills are the exact same size of a real bill, and are emblazoned with Boggs' green thumbprint on the back.
In addition to the American bills, Boggs also draws European and Australian currency. As his art style drew attention, so did the manner in which a piece was bought and sold. The rules are simple: Boggs, using "Boggs-Bills," makes a transaction in which he usually receives change and a bill. He promptly contacts the collector and notifies them of the transaction. The collector will then buy the bill from the vendor, at a price sometimes ten to a hundred times its denomination, and the receipt and change from Boggs, also at a high sum. It is important to have all three items in order to complete a "piece." It is rumored that a transaction in Switzerland cost an eager collector $420,000. Of course, this can neither be confirmed nor denied, as collectors wish to remain anonymous because of legal reasons. Apparently, there is a four-year waiting list for Boggs' artwork.
Uncle Sam was not pleased with Boggs, citing a violation of provisions of the U.S. counterfeiting laws.
The Secret Service raided his various art studios in 1990, and confiscated some 1,300 pieces of artwork in 1992. Boggs also got in trouble outside the U.S. The first time it was in England in 1986, and the second in Australia in 1989. On both occasions, Boggs was arrested and later acquitted by a jury. The Australian legal system liked him so much that he also won a wrongful arrest lawsuit with a very large windfall.
In this case, what is art? Is it the drawn bill? Is it the components of the transaction? Or is it the transaction itself? For Boggs, perhaps the art can be found in the way he convinces people to pay ridiculously high sums for some fake money and a receipt.
So, what's next for the currency artist? Money Man, a 1992 60-minute documentary directed by Philip Haas, chronicles Boggs' growing empire and brushes with the law, in which he tries to get good with the Secret Service while still defiantly continuing with his artwork. After spending about $250,000 worth of his "Boggs-Bills," Boggs hopes to put $1 million of his money into circulation.
So if you ever come across a "bill" that looks like Monopoly money and nothing but a thumbprint on the other side, know that you're not holding your correct change, but a piece of "art." ¤ C.Ho.