By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
BOGGS FELL INTO HIS ODD LINE OF WORK, LIKE ALICE falling down the rabbit hole, during a visit to Chicago in May 1984, when he started doodling on a paper napkin in a diner one day and the doodle gradually began to take on the aspect of a $1 bill. The waitress, taken with the doodle, proclaimed it the most beautiful dollar bill she'd ever seen and asked him if she could buy it from him. According to Boggs, the waitress offered him $20 for it, and then $50, neither of which he found acceptable. Then he had an idea. "How much do I owe you for the coffee?" he asked her, to which the answer was 90 cents. "Okay, I'll pay you for it with the drawing," Boggs said, and the waitress accepted his offer with delight. As he was going out the door, she said, "Wait!" -- and brought him a single silver dime in change.
The first Boggs transaction had taken place. In lieu of a real dollar bill, he had paid for something with a drawingof a dollar bill andreceived change. Boggs knew that something significant had happened, but as yet he wasn't sure what. For a long time afterward he kept the dime in his pocket, rubbing it thoughtfully, taking it out and staring at it, waiting for the genie to appear.
The genie appeared in London, where Boggs lived from 1978 to 1988. He told an English friend about his Chicago exploit, but was assured that though an American waitress might go for something like that, the English never would. Whereupon, as a kind of challenge, Boggs carefully drew up a one-sided £5 note, and the two friends went out to try and spend it. For an entire day they tramped through London, meeting with bafflement or ridicule every step of the way. But finally, in a pub, they met with success. Boggs showed his drawing to the bartender, asked to buy a beer with it instead of with a real note, and the bartender said, "Sure, I'll take that" -- and thus a small industry, a private economy and a unique form of conceptual art was born.
The authorities took note, and within three years Boggs was on trial at the Old Bailey in London on charges of reproducing British currency. The Bank of England invited the United States Secret Service to join the prosecution, but judging Boggs' work to be within the law, the Secret Service declined, only to reverse its position after Boggs returned to the States. In 1993, after the Secret Service had raided his studio, Boggs filed a suit against the U.S. government, demanding that the Secret Service either return the 1,300 possessions it had confiscated from him or bring him to trial. The suit eventually made its way to the Supreme Court, which will announce if it will hear the case sometime this fall. If it does, it is likely to be an extremely lively and entertaining one. Floyd Abrams, the most famous First Amendment lawyer in the country, has filed an amicus brief on Boggs' behalf and believes the case has a twofold significance. "Two things are at issue," he told me over the phone. "One, taken narrowly as a matter of First Amendment law, is the issue of whether the government can step in and seize what are at least presumptively works of art without giving the artist in question any rights at all. More broadly, it's a case which raises issues about how we treat art in our society. It raises questions about whether the Law with a capital 'L' will simply override artistic principles without even a tip of the hat in their direction."
The day after the benefit for the Jurassic, Boggs and Weschler flew up to the Bay Area to do some readings. That night, I caught up with the artist and his girlfriend, Megan Brown, at a Kinko's in Berkeley, where he'd gone to use the cutting machine and take care of some documentation with his Nikon "Coolpix" digital camera, of which he seemed extremely fond. Boggs' Web site, which Megan manages (she was rarely without her laptop), carried an endorsement from Apple -- "Think Different" -- and Boggs told me he was hoping to get one from Nikon, too. Both he and Megan carried cell phones, and Boggs could often be seen delivering muttered monologues that, on closer inspection, turned out to be telephone conversations conducted through a small earpiece and a bead-size micro-phone attached to a wire obscured by his hair. Megan's phone was not so cutting-edge that you couldn't even see it, but she used it just as often. "Boggs Studio," I heard her saying as I walked into Kinko's. "This is Megan Brown." â
Boggs was sorting through the various sections of his attaché case, which was filled with a considerable amount of real money as well as that of his own making. Every transaction made with a Boggs bill has to be meticulously documented. On the back of the $50 bill with which he had paid for lunch at Bamboo, for instance, Boggs had written down the serial number of each dollar bill he received in change, as well as the date and mint mark of each quarter, dime, nickel and cent. He had then copied this information onto the back of the receipt, which he filed away, together with the change, in a compartment of his briefcase. The change from a Boggs transaction is never spent. It is sold.
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