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
"Because it's a much more complex sculptural structure," Boggs answered, shoving some wayward strands of hair behind his ear. "It requires a leap of perception by the viewer to see all the different objects as a unified singularity. The fact that these objects are connected by invisible relationships -- presented in different frames -- helps to portray the social fabric that we can't see. But it also bespeaks of deconstruction and reconstruction that's a product of social cooperation. What's unfair of critics is to call my work cold and clinical and cynical. When you look beneath the surface, you find the opposite. There's an element of poetry that people miss. A portrayal of the human connection between two people that goes against prescribed behavior."
"Has doing this become addictive for you?"
"It isaddictive," Boggs laughed. "When we were at Bamboo yesterday, there was something almost orgasmic about working against the tide with the waiter and then having the manager suddenly accept it. On the other hand, people think what I do is glamorous and easy, and it isn't. It gets boring and frustrating at times. I get turned down nine out of 10 times. But I can't allow myself to quit and concede the point to the government when the point is so very important. If I was a writer, I might do a book on the money system and move on. But if the Secret Service raided my house and seized the manuscript, I'd write another one!"
Sometime during this conversation, Megan curled up in the booth and went to sleep. Boggs was now on his third bottle of beer. A young, neatly dressed Asian-American with a Ph.D. in communications from Berkeley -- Boggs had spoken to him earlier -- was standing at the microphone crooning a spectacularly off-key version of "Let It Be," while Shumoh, our pretty, punkily dressed waitress -- who was majoring in computer science (Boggs finds out everything) -- presented us with a check for $57. A by-now-familiar sort of conversation took place, and the waitress called over the manager, a serious, pleasant-looking Asian woman who had been at the bar hunched over a pile of receipts all night doing the accounts. In the dim light of our booth, she scrutinized Boggs' two $50 bills with the same concentration she'd applied to the bar's finances.
"This is money?" she asked.
"No, it's art," Boggs laughed. "I find people who like art and will accept my bills at face value."
The manager considered the bills again. She was obviously an intelligent woman, and she was really thinking about them. What she was thinking, though, I had no idea. "I really like, but what can I use for?" she said finally. And then, pointing to Boggs' credit card, which had a picture of Salvador Dali on it, she said: "This one better."
AS A DRIVER, BOGGS APPEARED TO BE FAMILIAR WITH only two gears: first and fourth, with the former acting as a mere throat-clearing introduction to the deep animal growl of the latter. Right now we were in fourth, and Boggs, to celebrate his first successful transaction since arriving in Berkeley (he'd managed to buy a copy of Weschler's book with a Boggs bill), was indulging in a bit of "crazy" driving, sending the car careening left and right as he tore down an empty residential street. "Down boy, down!" said Weschler good-humoredly from the back seat, showing precisely the "sweet forbearance" for which he thanked Boggs in the preface to his book. It's tough being the biographer of a living subject, particularly when you're in a car your subject is driving too fast.
"There can be too much Boggs -- and that's off the record!" Weschler had said jokingly an hour earlier on Telegraph Avenue when Boggs was being a bit silly. It struck me as a revealing comment. For Weschler is not a warts-and-all biographer. Strictly speaking, he's not a biographer at all, of course, but rather someone who uses his subjects as launching pads for his own explorations of the larger questions their activities raise. In David Wilson's case, the topic was wonder. In Boggs' case, it was money, and the result was Weschler's elegant and instructive book about "our confoundingly abstract system of exchange." But Boggs had been a "money artist" for a mere 15 years. Theoretically, his career had at least two decades to run, and in future editions of his book, Weschler would be adding postscripts, perhaps even new chapters. Weschler had given Boggs a measure of fame and, more important, respect; Boggs, in turn, had contributed the raw material for Weschler's book. In short, each owed the other something.
"It's definitely a symbiotic relationship," Boggs had â told me in the karaoke bar when I asked him what effect Weschler had had on his career. "The kind of writer Ren is, he needs someone to write about, and the kind of artist I am -- well, half of what I do is so ephemeral, and I don't write. It takes someone who really thinks about the art, and not just the legal situation, and Ren's articles really brought the work to the attention of people who could support it."
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