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Making Money 

The conceptual art of J.S.G. Boggs.

Wednesday, Aug 4 1999
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Page 7 of 8

"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."

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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."

Weschler put it this way: "The ongoing problem in my career as a writer is the continuing existence of the role of your subjects. I wrest art out of the chaos of this material, give it a form and wholeness, and dammit, they keep on living! The ending I have right now for the Boggs book is perfect. In practice there may be a different ending. But that's the trouble with making art out of the human clay."

ABOUT TWO WEEKS AFTER I GOT BACK to Los Angeles, I spoke to David Wilson on the phone. He told me that the benefit for the Jurassic hadn't raised very much -- about $1,500 after various expenses (including a hefty $1,000 to cover Boggs' plane and hotel costs) had been defrayed -- and admitted that he had initially been reluctant to stage the event, partly because Ricky Jay had already raised $25,000 for the Jurassic, and partly because he didn't want the museum to become too identified with Weschler. ("Even though he wrote a book about us, we're very independent, we're not the same thing, obviously," he said.) Wilson conceded that some people at the Jurassic had been unhappy about the evening's finances but insisted that he was not one of them. "I have a great deal of respect for what Boggs has done," he told me, "and for the way he's persevered through all this and held on to the coattails of this crazy thing he happened to grab on to."

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