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Editorial Reviews Review

James Stephen George Boggs is not a con artist, he's a talented artist who deftly renders his own currency and "spends" it. Struck by the value of money, and what paper notes represent, he draws U.S. dollar bills, English pound notes, Swiss francs, and other forms of paper money; then he barters his illustrious artwork in lieu of cash to willing merchants who agree to honor his currency for services and products. In Boggs: A Comedy of Values, Lawrence Weschler, author of the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Critics Circle Award-winning book Mr. Wilson's Cabinet of Wonder, documents Boggs's whimsical antics, offering a quirky and lively meditation on the value of currency and workmanship and a richly informative (albeit brief) social history of money.

Boggs does not sell his "money" directly, as Weschler learns, nor does he attempt to pass his drawings off as actual bills. For Boggs, the elaborate transaction of negotiation is a crucial element in his work, and the tangible proof of his success--receipts and proper change--is included in the final product. Of course, treasury departments from around the world are anything but pleased; the second half of the book deals extensively with the artist's court battle with the Bank of England. As Weschler notes, Boggs is not the first to question the value of money through art (Larry Rivers, Pablo Picasso, Timm Ulrichs, Adolf Wölfi, and Jurgen Harten are just some artists who have put currency to the test), but the author finds in Boggs's work an ideal subject for opening a probing inquiry into the economy of money, especially timely at the end of the 20th century as paper currency--which once directly represented precious-metal coins--evolves into "binary sequences of pulses racing between computers." --Kera Bolonik --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

Just what is money worth? Or, what is the value of value? Funny questions, maybe, but they are central to the figure at the heart of Weschler's latest paper chase of a profile. J.S.G. Boggs is a slow-change artist. He draws legal tenderAwith varying degrees of realismAand attempts to spend it: at restaurants, hotels, airports, convenience stores and galleries around the world. He has been arrested for his aesthetic endeavors, stalked by British treasury cops, had his work confiscated by the Secret Service and been detained by baffled proprietors. Boggs's artAa brand of conceptual performance with roots in Duchamp and WarholAis contingent upon the abysses of logic that open up when people are asked to accept his counterfeit bills not as actual money (Boggs isn't a con man), but as art. As art, of course, they are worth something. An anomaly, if not a minor celebrity, in certain corners of the art world, Boggs serves Weschler well as a springboard for thoughts on the protean nature of both art and money. With meandering brilliance and levity, Weschler delves not only into the outlandish antics of Boggs the provocateur, but also into the history of banking, the development of paper money and the valuation of art. One of the great, and usually convincing, spinners of true tales that seem tall, Weschler writes in an erudite yet nimble styleAitself a great service to the popularization of ideas. (June)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Series: Comedy of Values
  • Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press; 1 edition (November 15, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226893960
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226893969
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,292,822 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

17 of 23 people found the following review helpful By on August 16, 1999
Format: Hardcover
I have until the end of September to convince the SUPREME COURT of the UNITED STATES of AMERICA to hear my case. Please HELP!
If you believe in FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION, or JUSTICE, please send me an email now so I can tell you how you can help.
Don't let the SECRET SERVICE seize and destroy my art. You deserve the right to decide for yourself. Don't let them make that decision for you!
If you don't know what I'm talking about, please buy this book and READ IT. (while you still can).
Then write me at -
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Doran Of Illinois on June 9, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I read the book - let me say that I have been reading about Mr. Boggs in the numismatic press and have seen his handywork from various coin dealers for years. This man's artistic talent would rank excellent, and this book gives the reader an inside look at the man who has comically mocked the artwork of government issued money (especially U.S. money) and its no wonder why his work is appriciated by both collectors and non-collectors of coins and currency.
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Marcy L. Thompson VINE VOICE on August 31, 2000
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The story told in this book is fasccinating -- of a man whose art directly addresses the questions: what is money? what does money mean to us? how does money work? Boggs is an artist who creates beuatiful work, and does it in a way that it also drives to the heart of the American monetary system. The transactional part of his art is fascinating, and is told in an engaging amnner in this book.
The book suffers from being an enlargement of a fascinating article on the same subject. The borders between the original material and that added to make it a book-length piece are sometimes glaring. The book would have been more successful if the text were limited to the original article, and the collection of images were expanded.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By C. Mclemore on May 16, 2003
Format: Hardcover
The debate about what constitutes value has been tackled numerous times, but this may be the most humorous and interesting take on the subject. JSG Boggs shoves the question of value into our faces by drawing money and trying to pass it off - not as real money, but as real value. The book follows Boggs as he takes his "what is value" sideshow on the road, and into several court appearances. By the end, you'll see money in a whole new light as Boggs rides into the sunset with a pocket full of "cash."
The book loses its touch (and its uniqueness) when Mr. Weschler wanders into a generic discussion of the history of money. Overall, the author's treatment does just what it should - get out of the way and let Boggs paint a marvelous story.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A fun, easy read, and it really should make you think about our relationship with money. If you were to accept a Boggs bill in payment, it's not because he says it has value... it's because you *agree* it has value. And since modern money is no longer backed by silver and/or gold, what makes a Boggs any different from a "real" bill?

Boggs himself is a fascinating character; Wechsler's prose wanders, but always manages to come back to the point he was trying to make, and the meandering is interesting too. Recommended.

And if you get the opportunity to see any of Boggs' work, go see it.
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