Geoff Hargadon may not actually be selling anything with his “Cash For Your Warhol” signs, but for the past six years he’s had Boston—and other cities worldwide—buying into the conceptual art project nonetheless.
At once a suit-and-tie businessman and a Somerville-based photographer, Hargadon represents much of what his project’s namesake, Andy Warhol, was all about. Hargadon’s work blurs the line between consumer and creative culture, between advertising and art, and studies the psychology of money—no differently than Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Cans did in the 1960s.
Hargadon started “Cash For Your Warhol” in 2009 as an ironic and snarky response to the U.S. financial crisis. Inspired by the “Cash For Your House,” “Cash For Your Gold,” and other similar signs plastered on telephone poles across the country, Hargadon decided to market his own ironic liquidity solution to those desperately trying to make ends meet—including the one percent.
“The project was meant to show how the recession was nasty all around,” Hargadon said. “I wanted ‘Cash For Your Warhol’ to say, ‘We’re all in this.’”
The first “Cash For Your Warhol” sign was staked on the front lawn of Brandeis University’s Rose Art Museum, at a time when it was about to sell off a chunk of its modern and contemporary collection. Hargadon’s sign got people talking, especially those who were already up in arms about the museum’s imminent plans. It might even have helped saved the Rose. More than a half of a decade later, the museum’s collection is still intact, and according to Hargadon, his sign now hangs on the walls of its lunchroom.
Fast-forward several years: the economic landscape on which Hargadon founded his idea is finally on the ups, but that by no means has slowed his project down. While he is glad that the financial slump is in the past, he’s been looking to the future, designing signs that say “Plan For The Next Crash,” collaborating with other artists, and organizing exhibits with various galleries. “I keep thinking that it’s going to fade away, but we’re doing different things,” Hargadon said.
Printing his personal (and later Google Voice) phone number on the signs, Hargadon never expected that people would take “Cash For Your Warhol” seriously and call. But they did call, and they still do call, leaving messages that range in tone from frank curiosity to outright irritation. Hargadon has gotten people trying to sell him their old pop art, and he’s gotten people accusing him of criminal vandalism. He’s gotten people inviting him to parties, and he’s gotten people offering him weed. He’s really gotten it all.
At this point, the messages have become as much a part of the project as the signs are themselves—he’s even transcribed an assortment of his favorites onto plaques for display and arranged to have the recordings mashed-together by a DJ for his latest show.
This month, Hargadon is unveiling a retrospective of all 24 of his “Cash For Your Warhol” pieces at the LMNL Gallery in Philadelphia. He’s hyping it up with a giant billboard installation in the western part of the city. The display features both Hargadon’s original editions, which have the same font, same spacing, etc. as the bandit signs they parody, as well as a handful of newly created monoprints. Made by Boston screen printer James Weinberg, the monoprints are one of a kind. Each one has up to 15 layers and screams with color—gold, fuchsia, teal, and orange—and look more Warholian than anything Hargadon has done yet.
When Hargadon was an undergraduate studying economics at Harvard from ’72 to ’76, he never even stepped into the university’s Fogg Art Museum. His interest in art came nearly 20 years later, after he saw an exhibit on Sol Lewitt in San Francisco. Drawn in by Lewitt’s orderly, systematic, and logical way of creating, Hargadon began learning more about other important figures in the conceptual art movement. “It all just crystallized right there,” he said. “It didn’t take long for me to realize what I was missing.”
Since the project’s inception, Hargadon has discovered more about Warhol than he had initially expected. He developed a love for Warhol’s Mao, Electric Chair, and Polaroid series as well a deep-seated appreciation for the artist’s spontaneous approach to his work. “Warhol was an important figure, but he didn’t have the pretense that so many artists have today,” Hargadon said. “He was just like, ‘I’m doing this, and I’m enjoying the ride.’”
Like Warhol, Hargadon isn’t making art for his 15 minutes of fame. He’s doing it to do it—whatever happens, happens.