In a darkened room, a man photocopies money — greenbacks, cash. He stamps each bill with the green “Department of Treasury” seal. He adds serial numbers. He signs and then carefully cuts out each note and stacks it in a briefcase — a silver briefcase filled with bills — thousands of them. The man takes his currency to a motorcycle dealership where he selects a Harley. With five $1,000 bills he pays the cashier . . .
J.S.G. Boggs is an artist whose medium is money. Boggs’ “dollars” have been confiscated as counterfeit by the U.S. Treasury Department. He has been arrested by the Bank of England. The Australian government has expressed that his company is unwanted. Because, for Boggs, his art is not just making money. No piece is complete until it is spent. Money Man is an exploration of the curious and controversial artwork of Boggs, who was profiled in a two-part article by writer Lawrence Weschler in The New Yorker in 1987. Boggs explores that most American and yet universal subject — money.
Haas films Boggs in the process of making his art — both creating the bills and spending them. At a trendy Pittsburgh restaurant, Boggs waits until the check arrives to offer the waiter his home-made version of a $100 bill. And the restaurateur accepts Boggs’ art-bill because it’s probably worth more than the real thing. The next day, the artist visits a collector and sells him the receipt from the dinner (along with the change) for $200. Boggs then gives the collector the address of the restaurant. The final stage of the three-part transaction is the very funny meeting between the collector, who would like to buy the Boggs bill to complete the piece, and the wary owner, who now doesn’t want to part with this curious work of art.
In a voice-over, Boggs explains that he doesn’t mind that the final transaction between the collector and the restaurateur never was completed — his goal is to get people thinking and talking about what makes money valuable. With each note that he tries to spend, Boggs asks us to question why one piece of paper (like that “officially recognized” limited-edition engraving, the dollar) has intrinsic value, while a similar piece of art, like a Boggs bill, may or may not. “In God we trust,” indeed?
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