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Boggs: a Comedy of Values by Lawrence Weschler

art history and criticism, U. of Chicago Press (paperback), 1999, 161 pages

reviewed by Deane Rink,

Deane Rink, writer, producer, and project director, is a voracious reader with very eclectic tastes. He sends us short, provocative reviews, introducing us to fascinating books that otherwise might pass unnoticed. He has worked for PBS, National Geographic, the American Museum of Natural History, Hearst Entertainment, and Carl Sagan. From his involvement in numerous projects about science, he has remarkable insight into present-day scientific endeavors and their implications, and in-depth knowledge of specialized fields (like Antarctica from his two "Live from Antarctica" PBS productions. But he also savors provides illuminating commentary on literature, fantasy, biography, and popular fiction. Links to Deane's other reviews. You can reach him at

J. S. G. Boggs is an artist whose art is that he draws facsimiles of paper money and then attempts to spend or barter them as if they were legal tender.  This biography is an expansion of a profile done for The New Yorker, and is as much a philosophical disquisition on the relative values of art and commerce as it is a conventional portrait of the artist.  In fact, there are pages that trace the history of currency, setting the stage, so to speak, for the appearance of the artist Boggs.

Boggs is not merely a master engraver.  He is a cultural revolutionary who has been arrested for his art; indeed, one senses that he needs the arrest and social disapprobation for the depth of his art to be recognized. Boggs has committed himself to going an entire year without the use of conventional money, and has developed a network of willing aiders and abettors.  One of the more delicious ironies of Boggs's trade is that his works (always done on one side only with a blank on the reverse) have become quite valuable, often exceeding "face value" by orders of magnitude.  But as Boggs points out, that is how it should be.  After all, there's more labor involved in meticulously hand-drafting a perfect replica than in running specially-marked paper through a massive printing press.

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