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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Cheap ‘N Artsy

I’m a bit of a pack rat, I’ll admit. I like to collect things; not weird stuff like used chewing gum or fingernail clippings, but healthy things like albums and books, particularly ones with lots of pictures. Maybe every now and then, I’ll pick up the odd objet d’art out of the trash. Though I don’t have any at the moment, I profess a minor fetish for those amusing dashboard figurines with the big, bobbly heads. That’s normal, right?

Everybody does stuff like this; we all like to surround ourselves with things that please us, don’t we? Sure we do. More than providing a few diverting moments of contemplation, the things we surround ourselves with help us, for better or worse, define a sense of who we are. Perhaps we see some fundamental truth about our lives or the world we live in reflected in them. In this way, these objects, which we take out of their utilitarian context and appreciate for some, maybe mystical, intrinsic value, serve the same function as art. In a way, we are all art collectors.

If I had the money and the time, I’d have me a collection to put the over-stuffed halls of the Louvre to shame. But I have neither money nor time, nor do I imagine that the Mona Lisa would be particularly happy hanging over the bed in my tiny apartment. So what is the budding connoisseur to do?

Fortunately for you, because I am obsessively on the lookout for such things, I have compiled a brief list of sources for the art collector afflicted with a short attention span and a shoestring budget. The great things about the following items is that they not only provide a nearly encyclopedic collection of high art at low prices, but also serve as great resources for poor aspiring artists who, if they’re anything like me, find themselves constantly involved in an endless array of projects.

If anything can approach the fabled expansiveness of the collection of the library of Alexandria, it is the catalogue of publications put out by art book powerhouse Taschen. Taschen, founded by artophile Benedikt Taschen in 1980, grew out of a modest comic book store/publishing company in Cologne, Germany. From the eighties on, Taschen has expanded its repertoire to include publications on art, architecture, interiors, photography, pop culture and film. They even offer a wide array of books on erotic art, for those with a more physical inclination. Blurring distinctions between high and low art and zealously devoted to bringing art of all kinds to the public, Taschen is a veritable storehouse of cultural ideas and objects available at remarkably low prices: from five dollars for a tastefully put-together postcard book, to around forty dollars for one of their enormous, high quality, full-color art books. Taschen also prints calendars and stationary, providing a wealth of options for the serious but financially challenged collector. Read these books and never be left out of even the most pretentious art opening conversation ever again.

Other publishing houses to keep an eye out for are Phaidon (who often publishes smaller, cheaper versions of their often dauntingly-sized art books) and, for those with a literary bent, Dover Press, who put out editions of classic writings for insanely low prices (I’m talking like a dollar or two), as well as art books for well under twenty dollars.

Taschen can be accessed on-line at www.taschen.com. While you’re on the net, you might want to surf over to www.mixedgreens.com, a unique on-line art gallery devoted to the presentation of one of a kind works by up and coming artists. Designed for the budding collector, Mixed Greens offers informative essays on the subject as well as an easy-to-navigate gallery of work curated into subgroups that facilitate a non-threatening browsing and selection process. The best thing about Mixed Greens is that, in addition to selling art, it allows visitors to create their own on-line “collection” for free. As the web site explains, “You can pick and choose works that you enjoy, and that you think might work well together as a whole, without having to purchase the art.” How cool is that? Plus the site offers an open forum for like-minded collectors to critique and discuss the work on display. Mixed Greens is the perfect starting point for beginning collectors facing the often intimidating world of art collecting.

For music fans looking to extend their knowledge of musical history and genres, I suggest the Juke Box Hits collections released by United Audio Entertainment Ltd. The collections are made in Holland, and mysteriously are only available at Strawberries Record’s locations. The lack of availability of information on this company and its products seems a little a little suspicious, but I’m not complaining. At 60 songs for $10, who cares how they do it. Each set draws primarily on the works of a small core of representative artists, probably those easiest to get the rights to. The sound quality and selection are excellent despite the obvious low production budget. And the range is impressive: Country, Blues, Big Bands and Classic Jazz, Jazz Divas, Crooners, and even a compilation devoted solely to the accomplishments of the Rat Pack. Juke Box Hits delivers big bang for the buck: great music that is culturally relevant, a great place to start for any one who wants to try something new or for those who want to enhance an already existing collection.

For those who prefer to travel in real space, I recommend an outing to FlyRabbit, located at 155 Harvard Ave. in Allston. FlyRabbit is a creative boutique store specializing in the bizarre and somewhat macabre. Occasionally, the store hosts spoken word performances. From books, ‘zines and cards, to toys and novelties such as “fish-pins” and preserved insects, FlyRabbit has everything a young Tim Burton’s heart could desire. It may not be art, but it may be just what you need.

I would also recommend those more serious about forming a bona fide collection to scour the numerous art showings that frequently pop up at coffee houses and restaurants across Boston. Check out Espresso Royale on Commonwealth Ave. for example, or stop by the Other Side Cafe where UMB’s own Ben Merris has a show going on right now. The Other Side is located on Mass. Ave. diagonally across from the Virgin Superstore. Places like these almost always feature the work of students and young, unestablished artists; as a result, the work is usually not only original and edgy, but often can be had for a song. Or at least far less than one would pay at one of the trendier galleries along Newbury Street. Who knows, you might snatch up a piece by the next Andy Warhol.

And if you don’t, who cares? Art collecting isn’t about following trends, it isn’t about brand-names, and it certainly isn’t about price tags; it’s about finding that unique object that speaks to you. If it opens your eyes to history and culture, if it inspires you to create new art, or if it simply makes you smile inside in some way that nothing else can, then you’ve found it. If you can find it for a few dollars less, so much the better.