You can give them to the birds and bees.
September 21, 2003 9:30 PM   Subscribe

You've probably never heard of him, but as an artist JSG Boggs has been making "money" for two decades. Boggs has been the subject of many articles, a film, and a book by Lawrence Welscher. He's bought lots of things with his art ("Hot dogs, watches, airplane tickets, rent, clothing, jewelry–-anything." (And he's done so in England, Germany, France, Ireland, Belgium, Switzerland, the USA, and Italy.) The largest collection of his works belongs to The Secret Service. [more inside]
posted by dobbs (16 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
How does he work? Boggs pays for something with a piece of his art. Then, he calls up one of the collectors of his art and offers to sell them the receipt and the change from the transaction--he insists that the value of the art in the original transaction is the face value of the bill he has drawn and therefore gets chang. Once the collector purchases the change and the receipt, Boggs reveals the location and date of the original transaction. The collector then attempts to purchase the art from the original recipient. Boggs considers a note (one of his drawings/bills), the receipt, and the change to constitute "a piece".
posted by dobbs at 9:31 PM on September 21, 2003 [2 favorites]

Actually we have heard of him before, but never as the subject of his own thread.

I think.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 9:49 PM on September 21, 2003

Ack! I meant to use this PBS link but forgot.

On preview: grrr. Thanks Crash. I never used that "google" thing before--just the MeFi search... doh!
posted by dobbs at 9:52 PM on September 21, 2003

Yeah, dobbs, the five or six people who would have remembered the link burried in the comments will be very upset with you.

Interesting link, though. I think it's a bit of a stretch for this guy to go through the motions of passing them off as currency, if he has people willing to pay for his stuff he could just eliminate the middle man.
posted by Space Coyote at 10:28 PM on September 21, 2003

I remember seeing him on BBC a long time back (ten years maybe?) doing versions of five pound notes but (I think) with the waitresses face instead of the queen, and then offering them instead of a real note - not trying to pass them off, but definitely a barter.
posted by twine42 at 4:48 AM on September 22, 2003

That "stretch" is indeed the point, SC. The "art" involved isn't his draftsmanship--he's a competent artist, but there are certainly many talented folks who could draw fake bills that are much more technically convincing. Especially if you've seen any of the TV/documentary footage of him, the real essence of it is almost performance art. It's his ability to convince someone totally new--an everyday merchant who's not an informed art collector--to acknowledge that there's an intrinsic absurdity at the heart the formal "dance" that's become prosaic and mundane to almost all of us. "We agree what your product is worth, we agree what my piece of paper is worth, I give you my piece of paper, and you give me your product and change worth the difference". (Not that it's invalid--which is the point that the Secret Service just can't seem to accept--just absurd.)

What the "collectors" take home, after the fact, is the evidence he was able to do this, yet again.
posted by LairBob at 5:53 AM on September 22, 2003

Fascinating stuff. Thanks Dobbs! Reminds me of those fake stamp guys in chicago.
posted by shoepal at 6:59 AM on September 22, 2003

Indeed, in the Boggs documentary I saw, he shows off a piece of fan mail that was sent under a bogus stamp bearing his likeness, which has a tidy closing-the-circle quality to it. This is kind of interesting, since most mail is scanned under blacklight to reveal a hidden denomination code; presumably this stamp didn't have the right code, so letter would have gone into the "trouble" bin and been hand-cancelled.

I also recall a collector chasing down one of Boggs' banknotes at a bar (?), and the barman was unwilling to sell it.
posted by adamrice at 7:21 AM on September 22, 2003

Reminds me of an April Fool's Day prank I one pulled. I wanted to send a letter to a friend at my college (something about deportation), but, due to bad planning, it was April 1 and I hadn't sent it yet. So I made a fake postmark -- this was pre-computer, so I used a stamp pad, crayon, and Listerine bottle cap. I then handed the letter to the postal clerk, saying it had been placed in the wrong mailbox. The postmark fooled her, and the letter ended up in the intended box, much to the amusement of all.
posted by MrMoonPie at 9:03 AM on September 22, 2003

That reminds me of First Issue Reserved Edition, which are stamps that are made to commemorate things that probably shouldn't be. I first found this on the web in 1995 or so. At the time, one of the goals was to get your FIRE stamps postmarked.
posted by plinth at 9:17 AM on September 22, 2003

I have followed Boggs ever since I first heard about him on NPR, but I haven't seen many of these stories. I also liked hearing about the stamp guys. Thanks for some good links, everyone.
posted by TedW at 10:19 AM on September 22, 2003

Interesting quote by a Postal Inspector about the FIRE stamps -- it's not counterfeiting if the fake stamp isn't a copy of a real one. So, hey, go crazy!
posted by MrMoonPie at 10:33 AM on September 22, 2003

Indeed, the transaction is more than just the icing on the cake. I feel, and would think Boggs agrees, that it's actually the cake. Further, in case it wasn't clear, Boggs never attempts to "pass" his art off as money. In fact, his notes are only one sided and could never really fool anyone if that was even his intent. (Hence the ridiculousness of the SS confiscating 1300 pieces.)

I really like how the transaction adds so many other levels to the art:

a. involves more people than just a straight sale of art.
b. those people are folks who often have no dealings with the "real" art world.
c. should the recipient of the original Boggs dollar feel inclined to sell to a collector they will recieve much more than the bill was "worth" in the original transaction--something that makes their "faith" in his art more endearing and, in many cases I'm sure, puts the money in the hands of someone who needs the it more than the collector does.
d. has a little mystery element (collector tracking down the art).
e. since Boggs does not reveal the location of the art until the reciept is sold, to me it's sort of a screw you to the art world. if the original recipient doesn't part with the art, the collector has just spent a sizeable amount of cash on a cash register receipt and some coins.

For those keen to find out more about him, the Lawrence Weschler book in the original post is superb.
posted by dobbs at 11:36 AM on September 22, 2003

Hence the ridiculousness of the SS confiscating 1300 pieces

How long does it take him making these art "bill"s? Seems just one side, fully detailed would take a full month drawing if not more. Wonder if 1300 confiscated pieces is accurate as in a bank robbery, how do your really know what the crooks took? He is imitating "the art of money".
posted by thomcatspike at 2:01 PM on September 22, 2003

thomcatspike, it's not clear what stage of completion the confiscated materials were in. they could have been very rough sketches or fully finished pieces. from what i recall from the book, pieces took between a "few" and "many" hours to complete.
posted by dobbs at 2:52 PM on September 22, 2003

took between a "few" and "many" hours to complete.
Wow, that's quick, and shows his talent, thanks dobbs. I like that his art is wallet size...
posted by thomcatspike at 3:02 PM on September 22, 2003

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