Cash for Your Warhol

August 9, 2012

There's a unique effort in Boston to draw some attention from people walking, driving and riding the T. It's subtle street art commenting on the economy, and if you don't pay attention, you just might miss it.

Maybe you see the signs at a stop sign or on telephone poles: "Cash for Gold" or "Cash for your House.”

But what about a giant billboard on Fan Pier that shouts "Cash for your Warhol"?

Some people are skeptical: “I don't think that's a real thing. How many people own a Warhol picture? I don't think too many."

So what do you get when you call the number on the billboard? A recorded message.

“Thanks for reaching Cash for your Warhol…”

The man behind this Warhol pitch is Geoff Hargadon — part-time artist, full-time financial planner. He's from Somerville.

"You know most people go by this billboard and they won’t even see it,” says Hargadon. “I want people to kind of do a double take."

Hargadon isn't looking to buy those famous Warhol images of a Campbell's Soup can or Marilyn Monroe. His goal? Well, let's have him tell the story:

"I'm driving in my car and I kept seeing these signs that say 'Cash for your House.' This was at the height of the financial crisis. And I thought, who would ever call a number like that and sell their house? Well, I actually called some of those numbers and it turns out people do. I asked them, do people really call you? And they said yes. So I thought about it some more and I thought it would be really kind of fun and funny and interesting and a sign of the times – no pun intended — to do one of those signs that included the 1 percent, if you will, so it was saying this financial crisis is everywhere. And I know you have Warhols and you need to sell them, and here's your place."

Hargadon has received nearly 3,000 calls in the past three years. He puts his small signs up around the country, wherever he travels. And he expects the billboard will bring in more calls.  Each message is archived, and Hargadon plays them alongside his signs when he's had installations in local galleries.

Each caller receives a text message in return, but Hargadon won't reveal what it says. It's part of the humor, he says, and Andy Warhol himself may have approved. That's according to Eric Shiner, curator of the Andy Warhol museum in Pittsburgh. He's purchased 2 of Hargadon's smaller signs for the museum.

"I think Warhol would have loved the project. He had an incredibly deep and dark sense of humor,” says Shiner. “But he also would have really enjoyed it because for him the line between art and business was completely blurred and the idea of marketing Warhols as a consumer product was something that he did in his own life and career and I think he would have really enjoyed it happening on the streets of America."

Shiner points out that in the past decade, billboard and graffiti displays have largely gained acceptance as art.

"In city streets all over the world it's become something that is readily available, anyone can access it and it's very democratic in that sense,” he says. “And Warhol was all about the democratization of imagery."

This week also marks the would-be 84th birthday of Andy Warhol. The Cash for your Warhol billboard's appearance is not a coincidence, according to artist Geoff Hargadon.

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