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Treasure or Trash? Artist Says It's in the Packaging

How do objects acquire their monetary value? What makes something worth $2 rather than $100? By poking fun at such questions, artist Justin Gignac has found a way to turn trash into something closer to treasure.

A few years ago, Gignac, then an intern at MTV, wanted to a make a point to a colleague about what people consider valuable.

"We were having a discussion about the importance of package design. And someone dared mention that they thought package design wasn't important," Gignac says. "So I figured the only way to prove them wrong would be to try to package something that absolutely nobody in their right mind would ever want to buy."

The something was garbage. He wandered around New York City collecting trash. He arranged it in tiny boxes and hawked them on the street.

Several years and more than 1,000 sales later, the cubes now go for as much as $100.

Each tightly sealed box comes with a "Garbage of New York City" label and a small sticker with the date that the trash was picked. They are also signed and numbered.

Gignac says the cubes that he initially sold as a $10 gag gift began to be viewed more as art as the prices increased. "People's perceptions have completely changed," he says.

He recently teamed up with his girlfriend and "creative director," Christine Santora, on another novel project. They create paintings of items they would like to have — a piece of pizza, a dinner at a nice restaurant, financial security — and sell them for the actual price of the item depicted.

"We definitely are very selective about the things that we paint," Gignac says. "It makes you stop and think, 'Do I want this video game that badly that I'm going to spend a couple days painting it?'"

They created a Web site,, to sell the paintings.

Gignac says he enjoys experimenting with what people are willing to pay.

"People have this kind of preconceived notion of certain things and how much they should be, whether it's art or how much garbage shouldn't cost," he says. "I think it'd be great if we have a gallery show at some point to do like a 6-foot-by-8-foot painting of a taco and still charge $1.99 for it, because that's how much a taco costs."

In December, Gignac and Santora launched a similar site,, designed to help get charities needed equipment and supplies. They sold a painting of a kitchen sink, for example, and gave the $100 profit to Habitat for Humanity.

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