The artist J.S.G. Boggs faced criminal charges in England for his art, in which he would draw dollar or pound notes and offer them as payment for his bill at restaurants or bars. He wouldn’t try to pass them off as real bills and would require the merchant to provide a receipt and whatever the change on the bill would be. The next day, according to Lawrence Weschler’s great book “Boggs: A Comedy of Values,” a collector would come in and offer up to $10,000 for the drawings, which would be exhibited together with the change and the receipt. In England, any representation of currency is illegal and Boggs fell afoul of the law.
Laws here are different but “Terms & Conditions,” the new show by a UMBC MFA candidate, Jason Hughes (full disclosure, my wife works at UMBC), at Jordan Faye Contemporary through April 25, skirts the same line. ‘Evergreen,’ a zigguratlike structure in the center of one of the galleries, is made from 1.5 million decommissioned dollars, all of which had been shredded and bundled and look like a giant pile of grass clippings. In another piece, ‘Another Day Another Dollar,’ shredded dollars are woven together into a distinctly monetary rug design. Elsewhere, Hughes uses digital images of the ornamental designs on our currency to create ornate Persian-rug-style tapestries.
It is a powerful reflection on one of the most common and coveted forms of imagery in American life. The artist is also selling 10-year bonds for $100. When the bond matures after 10 years, the collector can put it toward $250 worth of Hughes’ art. The bonds highlight the way the entire show revolves around art as investment and image as currency.
Other impressive pieces, such as a heart created from surveillance cameras or a gridlike pattern made from the orange and white reflective patterns on road signs, are visually compelling but distract from the overall impact of the show, which demonstrates that even when art doesn’t make money, money can make art.