J. S. G. Boggs
|Born||Steven Litzner, adopted James Stephen George Boggs
1955, adopted 1979
Woodbury, New Jersey, U.S.
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James Stephen George Boggs (born 1955) is an American artist, best known for his hand-drawn, one-sided depictions of U.S. banknotes (known as "Boggs notes") and his various "Boggs bills" he draws for use in his performances. He spends his "Boggs notes" only for their face value. If he draws a $100 bill, he exchanges it for $100 worth of goods. He then sells any change he gets, the receipt, and sometimes the goods he purchased as his "artwork". If an art collector wants a Boggs note, he must track it down himself. Boggs will tell a collector where he spent the note, but he does not sell them directly. His works are held in the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago, the MOMA in New York, the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., Babson College, Wellesley, Massachusetts, the Norton Museum of Art, West Palm Beach, Florida, the Tampa Museum of Art, Tampa, Florida, the Spencer Museum of Art, Lawrence, Kansas, and the British Museum, London, England, to name but a few. Boggs and his work are chronicled in Boggs: A Comedy of Values, by Lawrence Weschler, published by the University of Chicago Press.
Boggs (Steven Litzner before being adopted) was born in Woodbury, New Jersey, U.S., in 1955. Any person who gets a Boggs note can usually sell it for much more than its face value: a $10 Boggs note may be worth more than $1000. Any person who knows about Boggs is likely to accept a Boggs note; for this reason, Boggs prefers to spend his art with people who are unfamiliar with his work. He likes people to make a conscious choice to accept art instead of money, believing or knowing how much money his art is actually worth spoils it. He views these "transactions" as a type of performance art, but the authorities often view them with suspicion. Boggs aims to have his audience question and investigate just what it is that makes "money" valuable in the first place. He steadfastly denies that he is a counterfeiter or forger, maintaining that a good-faith transaction between informed parties is certainly not fraud, even if the item transacted happens to resemble negotiable currency.
Recently, Boggs has moved on beyond his hand-drawn works and embraced digital technology, creating his latest works on the computer. These works resemble paper money in fundamental ways but add subtle twists. One of his better-known works is a series of bills done for the Florida United Numismatists' annual convention. Denominations from $1 to $50 (and perhaps higher) feature designs taken from the reverse sides of contemporary U.S. currency, modified slightly through the changing of captions (notably, "The United States of America" is changed to "Florida United Numismatists" and the denomination wording is occasionally replaced by the acronym "FUN") and visual details (the mirroring of Monticello on the $2, the Supreme Court building, as opposed to the U.S. Treasury, on the $10 and an alternate angle for the White House on the $20). They were printed in bright orange on one side and featured Boggs's autograph and thumbprint on the other. The total run was several hundred and they command a modest premium but not as much as his older, hand-drawn works.
Other money art that he has designed include the mural "All the World's a Stage", roughly based on a Bank of England Series D 20-pound note and featuring Shakespearean themes, as well as banknote-sized creations that depict Boggs's ideas as to what U.S. currency should look like. A $100 featuring Harriet Tubman is one known example.
Boggs was first arrested for counterfeiting in England in 1986, but was successfully defended by the human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson QC and acquitted. He was arrested for a second time in Australia in 1989, but also acquitted. Since 1990 some of his work and personal effects have been confiscated by the United States Secret Service Counterfeiting Division although no legal case has been brought against him. As detailed in Geoffrey Robertson's book The Justice Game, all Bank of England notes now carry a copyright message on the face as a direct result of Boggs's activities, the idea being that if they cannot secure a counterfeiting charge, then they can at least secure a copyright violation.
The reason he avoids criminal liability for counterfeiting is that he does not claim his artworks are money; rather he sells his notes.
In September 2006, Boggs was arrested in Florida and charged with possession of methamphetamine, possession of drug paraphernalia and carrying a concealed weapon. He failed to appear in court a few months later.
Other money artists include
- William Harnett
- John F. Peto
- Tim Prusmack
- John Haberle, who made trompe-l’œil paintings of U.S. currency in the 1880s
- Otis Kaye, who made both paintings similar to Harnett, and also actual-size pen-and-ink drawings from the 1920s to the 1950s
- Emanuel Ninger (Jim the Penman), who drew counterfeit notes by hand, with the intent to defraud, in the 1880s
- Genpei Akasegawa
Additional contemporary "money artists" include Stephen Barnwell (ANTARCTICA Dream-Dollars), Franck Medina (State of Kamberra), Cedric Mnich (Gordon Gekko's) and SilentBill (Dimensions of Money, Extra Value Money, Hyperinflation AKA Zimbadboy).
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- Craig J. Saper, Networked Art, University of Minnesota Press, 2001, pix. [clarification needed] ISBN 0-8166-3707-5.
- Arena: Money Man - On the Road with J.S.G. Boggs (BBC, January 15, 1993 - Money Man at the Internet Movie Database)
- Herboth, Eric (March 28, 2007). "Mad Money". LAS Magazine.
- Boggs: a Comedy of Values • A good, though slightly outdated, reference on Boggs by Lawrence Weschler.
- Shapinski's Karma, Bogg's Bills, and other Truth-Life Tales • Another Lawrence Weschler book, which is based on his original late '80s articles in The New Yorker profiling Boggs and his work.
- The Justice Game • This book by Geoffrey Robertson has a chapter on conducting the defence of Boggs in his British criminal trial.