By Besha Rodell
By Patrick Range McDonald
By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
Or call the manager, who duly arrived. "You can come back and try tomorrow," he said, barely glancing at the bill. "I'm just the assistant manager."
The woman, in the meantime, had placed a sombrero over her turban. "Money is not a work of art," she informed Boggs. After a brief period of calm, she seemed upset again. "Money is lies!" she said, almost shouting the words. "It's the reason we're in Kosovo. It's the reason I'm standing here right now. It's the reason I'll be back here tomorrow."
"Enjoy your life," Boggs said.
WHEN PEOPLE TALK ABOUT AN ARTIST WHO MEANS something to them, at a certain point the discussion invariably turns to a ranking of their work. Which is their greatest painting, movie, sculpture, novel, video, play, song, poem, etc.? Or, to be less pompous about it, which one do you like the best? In Boggs' case, of course, the question doesn't really come up. There is the matter of the actual drawings, but their individual beauty and wit can depend heavily on that of the currency he is spoofing. (The $50 bills he was using on this trip weren't that interesting, one reason why I sympathized with those who turned them down. Plus they were limited-edition prints, as opposed to the drawings with which he started his career.) One could, I suppose, rank the various transactions, arguing that one was more fiendishly complex and witty and profitable than any of the others, but it's hard to imagine doing it with much passion. And how would you know about all of them anyway, unless you were Boggs himself? But one possible answer to the question "What is Boggs' masterpiece?," it seems to me, is to say that Boggs' masterpiece â is Weschler's book about him. Beautifully written, illustrated with many of Boggs' own works, it feels like the finished artistic project to which Boggs' own work is simply the picaresque prologue.
How many times can one do the same thing? That was what I most wondered about Boggs. It was easy to imagine a painter -- and Boggs paints also -- obsessively working and reworking his canvases, precisely because they had a taste of eternity in them. But it was a little harder to imagine going up to complete strangers year after year and saying, "Hi, my name is Boggs, I'm an artist, and this is an example of my work . . ." In fact, after hanging out with Boggs for a few hours, it was hard to imagine doing it for one day.
Boggs explained it this way: "I do appreciate being alone in the studio and pushing paint around, but I need to interact with people. It's hard for me to ignore the time in which I live. I could lock myself up and pretend the Internet doesn't exist, that the information age isn't changing life, but I don't want to do that. Wealth is being created as never before. It makes the Industrial Revolution look like a quilting bee."
It was 1 o'clock in the morning, and Boggs, Megan and I were squeezed into the corner booth at a bladerunnerish karaoke bar in Berkeley patronized mostly by young Asian- and African-Americans. A tattooed, athletic Asian girl was standing at a microphone, singing the words to a Japanese pop song while the accompanying video unspooled on a screen. Sitting at her table was a young white guy with dyed hair, tattooed forearms, and so many earrings his earlobes dangled like testicles under the weight. Boggs' attempt to have one of his bills accepted in advance had already been rebuffed, but he was too hungry now to persist. "I've called a time-out," he said, resigned to paying with the green stuff.
"The black cashier had all sorts of hilarious things to say," Boggs told me as the waitress brought us bowls of steaming ramen noodles and plates of fish cakes wrapped in seaweed, "but she wouldn't take it. 'Money is not art! It's all lies! It's why we're in Kosovo!'"
"Don't you just love logic?" Megan asked.
"I'm walking into someone's life," Boggs admitted, pouring himself an Asahi beer. "I don't want to be so arrogant that I think I can judge people from such a brief encounter. There are so many valid reasons for not taking a bill, but that black chick could have used the extra bucks. I wanted to reach out and say, 'Wake the fuck up!' But I felt sorry for her, too. She was complaining that money was oppressing her life, and she was totally ill-equipped to know what to do about it."
"How do you think of yourself? What kind of artist are you?"
"A lot of people call me a conceptual performance artist -- that's the closest definition," Boggs replied. "To call me a money artist limits what the work's about. I like to think of myself as a human being rather than an artist, anyway."
And why the emphasis on a complete transaction? I asked, referring to some gallery installations where Boggs had hung all the elements of a transaction -- bills, change, receipt, menu, etc. -- in separate frames.