Who would call a sign to sell a house? That’s the question that got the ball rolling in the second Nerdnite lecture of the evening, “Cash for your Warhol; The Evolution of a Prank.” Presented by Geoff Hargadon, a money manager, conceptual artist and photographer who introduced himself to the crowd by stating dryly, “There are two things you need to know about me. First, I am a money manager and second, I am very interested in the psychology of money.”
He explained that he is also obsessed with signs, billboards, license plates and stickers. “I’m particularly obsessed with the sign in the Walgreens on Beacon Street in Somerville,” he said, “because it’s a little microcosm of what’s going on in the world. ”
Cash for your Warhol started as a reaction to signs he saw along the roadside advertising, “Cash for your House.” He wondered, who would call that sign!? Combining colours sampled from Andy Warhol’s Soup Can series with the design of the signs he saw he created a piece that explores the relationship between people, money, and the effect of consumerism on society in the contemporary landscape.
The first sign was installed at the Rose Art Museum in 2009. It was around the time that Brandeis University announced it’s plans to close the Museum and sell off it’s 6000 piece collection. “The Rose was in financial crisis so I went down and installed a sign,” Geoff said. Since then he has been installing signs and documenting their installation in cities like LA, Miami, Somerville, San Diego, Charlotte, and Naples, Fla earning himself a name in the art world, a place in several collections and even a reputation among street artists.
I think that the idea of a signage as a work of art is not obvious everyone. So I wasn’t surprised when a woman in the audience took offense when Geoff started playing the voice messages people had left, on his answering service. “Is he making fun of people?” she shouted. It was a little spooky listening to their voices echo throughout the room, “my name is Brian and I have several Warhol’s for sale…” on caller said. I imagined Brian, standing by phone somewhere calling, and I wondered what he expected to happen after that call. When I think about it, signs are visual communication put into the context of a landscape, they can say just as much about us and our culture, as say food, clothing or music.
But, Geoff Hargadon still struggles to get people to understand his art. In a wonderfully self-deprecating moment near the end of the lecture he said, “I was really hoping that after a while people would start to appreciate the art I created, and see it as a piece of art, but they still just keep calling me to sell their Warhol’s.”
As the lecture ended, there was a brief period for questions and answers and stickers were distributed to the crowd. Afterwards, Geoff said that he felt his experience speaking at Nerdnitewas a good one and was really happy that they asked him to present. “I liked it,” he said, “everyone seemed to be understanding and really enjoyed the project.”
What I liked about Geoff is that he’s not a professional artist. He takes what he does seriously enough to produce the kind of work that’s not just interesting but provocative, and makes you really think. Which in my mind is a sign of good art. But, at the same time he’s not so serious that he can’t find humor in the fact that basically he’s just a guy who is just really obsessed with signs.
(This is just a fun aside, we didn’t actually watch it during the talk but it’s Cash for Your Warhol in action)