Call it synergy. Every once in a while the universe conspires to give us a pair of thematically linked exhibitions that make the forces driving the contemporary world appear less random -- and smarter -- than they really are. Just last week, the clown prince of currency-based performance art, J.S.G. Boggs, was in town for the opening of an installation he curated around George Washington portraiture (in honor of the politician and general who died 200 years ago this month).
Only one week earlier, married Moscow artists Valery and Natasha Cherkashin, clad in rubber waders, stood in the middle of the World Bank's atrium pool dropping laminated enlargements of faces (Marie Curie, Vasco da Gama, Queen Elizabeth, Apollo and others) into about six inches of water. Their piece, called "Goodbye Favorite European Portraits, Hello Euro," is a kind of memorial to the Europe of old, many of whose idiosyncratic monetary units will soon vanish in the face of the blandly generic Euro.
Boggs, you may remember, gained a fair degree of notoriety with the Secret Service -- who enforce anti-counterfeiting laws -- for his meticulous "Boggs bills," artistic renderings of real money that he uses as payment for services rendered. Two such bills, accompanied by a receipt dated 12/8/99 and a menu from Sherrill's Bakery on Capitol Hill, are mounted on the gallery wall. But the centerpiece of the exhibit is a full-length Gilbert Stuart canvas of the first president, surrounded by a garage sale clutter of money strewn among portraits by such artists as pop painter Michael Clark and folk artist Howard Finster.
Is any of the cash, you might wonder, real?
"Oh sure," says Boggs, "it's all around you. Some of it printed by the U.S. Mint, some of it not. As for my own pieces, I'd rather not reveal where they are."
The show is not just about how we have to look at Washington from many angles to really see him but, like everything Boggs does, about the nexus of money and art.
The Cherkashins, whose equally conceptual work often deals with identity, cultural loss and monuments, tackle similar themes. With his wife acting as interpreter, Valery explains: "By making black-and-white photocopies, by stripping money of its ability to buy something, we remove its value. By blowing it up, by putting gold and silver paint on it, by turning it into a work of art, we replace it with another kind of value."
Boggs would agree. "The fact that it's money obscures the fact that it's also a work of art," he says, whipping a dollar bill from his wallet. Jabbing at Washington's face, the one-eyed pyramid and the engraving's ornate background, he marvels, "Look at what you've got here. On a single piece of paper, you've got portraiture, landscape and abstract geometric art."
J.S.G. BOGGS REGARDING GEORGE WASHINGTON: THE TRANSACTIONAL IMAGE -- Through Jan. 28 at the Dimock Gallery, lower Lisner Auditorium, 730 21st St. NW. 202/994-1525. Open Tuesdays through Fridays from 10 to 5 and in conjunction with Lisner Auditorium events.
GOODBYE FAVORITE EUROPEAN PORTRAITS, HELLO EURO -- Through March 31 in the atrium pool of the World Bank headquarters, 1818 H St. NW. 202/726-4534. Open Wednesdays from 11 to 2 by appointment.