New York

J. S. G. Boggs

Jeffrey Neale Gallery

Conceptual art has the potential of working as a mental stimulant in two contrary ways. There is the sort of conceptual expression that is a cryptic gesture, rich in meaning and equivocal in reading. There is also an emphatically less subtle idea art that is conceived and executed as a critically bold and pointed reflection of the culturally accepted norm. The tactics of J. S. G. Boggs’ art certainly belong to the latter of these two modes of conceptualism. While we might miss in Boggs the lyrical ambiguity of the first mode, his work is appealing in its keen ideological clarity and precision and its striking format.

Boggs’ drawings present an uncomfortable dichotomy in its most minimal terms. He challenges our contemporary social and esthetic status quo with a tension not of multiplicity but of two highly charged identities skillfully spliced together yet schizophrenically at odds with one another. The internal friction that activates Boggs’ work is a head-to-head confrontation between two of the most entrenched value systems of the Western world—money and art. At a time when many artists and critics are directly addressing the failure of art to extract itself from the grips of materialist greed, and when the creative artifacts of humanity’s self-expression now serve as commodities all but completely co-opted by the marketplace, Boggs’ clever conflation of art and money is so apropos that it reaches a point of obviousness that nearly negates itself in cliche.

In this, his first solo exhibition in New York, Boggs displayed the fruits of his money-making artistry in an installation that deftly appropriated the techniques of corporate-minded presentation. With a deadpan exactitude to match the cynical and clinical tone of his art, Boggs showed drawings of money (well-crafted, out-of-scale replicas of dollars, pounds, and francs) along with bills and receipts for merchandise and services that he had bought with his “art money,” and the legal tender he received in change.

Boggs’ equation of money and art is a formula of confusion and comparison. It is a larger piece than its parts, propelled by the mental dynamics of credibility. The relative difference in the value of money and art ultimately lies in how they function in commerce: the former as an authoritative icon and legitimized measure of class distinctions, the latter as a volatile branch of speculative investment whose fickle judgments of worth are subjectivity and corruption masquerading as objectivity, and whose oppressive “good taste” just increases the wealth and status of the elite. Boggs’ hybrid cash is something more than appears on the gallery wall—it is a process art that is conceptually complete only when it has been set in a rate of exchange. The validation we require of both art and money is a conformity that we cling to in our desperate fear of anarchy. This complacent and suffocating order, which we blindly follow, is made of such meaningless assumptions that when Boggs showed his harmless forgeries in London, they were confiscated by the Bank of England as counterfeit money and he was summoned to court on criminal charges. However, not to worry. Our cultural hierarchy always stands firm, and Boggs’ lawyer declared, in an interview with the local press, “It is important that the distinction between art and counterfeit is established.” Long live the hegemony of real money and the line between art and crime.

Reviewed by Carlo McCormick.