Saturday, July 10, 2010

2:36 p.m.

Although they are oftentimes slightly hidden — an entrance with an inscrutable sign or an upstairs space — small, handmade shop-galleries are also the places that can make a normal outing a unique, mini-adventure.

Recently, on a long, weekend trip to Chicago, we perused Wicker Park's offering of spaces and stores. There were insane sales and hoarder-like bookshops a-plenty, but it wasn't until we walked into Renegade Handmade that I managed to forget about the sweltering Saturday heat, lose track of time and jump into the bespoke work that brimmed from every shelf, drawer, table and rotating card stand in the shop. It was a happily organized clutter of handmade things and artworks, and the shopped effortlessly (and pleasingly) spilled into the little gallery in back.

The exhibition at Renegade, Clay Curiosities, is a whimsical collection of clay works tied together through color and nature. An eight-headed cat totem-poles upward, conjuring slow-motion visuals and bizarrely sweet dreams. Across the space, porcelain ladders connect cabins and treehouses, creating an imaginative wonderland in a pretend sky.

The octo-cat was hard to pass up, but I left with a lovely, felted cameo fascinator and a couple of colorful illustrated cards.

When we arrived back in Kansas City, Renegade was still stuck in my head; it was the tangible, real-life, edited-down Etsy shop of my dreams! I couldn't stop wearing the fascinator and I made a list of who might be deserving of the cards I had bought. Although I frequent Hammerpress in Kansas City (just bought a couple of screenprinted cards yesterday), I wondered at the chance of finding something like Renegade closer to home.

But on a sudden afternoon drive to Lawrence, we remembered to stop by Wonder Fair, another gallery/shop that I had never visited. And we were so happy we did. Wonder Fair, which sits on the second floor of a building on Massachusetts, is a trove of carefully selected works that attracts artists, designers and makers.

"I hate buying things in places like this because I just want to buy it all," said T.

It was true. Most of the works, books, papers, t-shirts and jewelry that I picked up, I wanted too.

In addition to the shop, Wonder Fair also prints its own works in-house. A sizable printing space in a back room houses hoses, screens and equipment for the artists' needs. There is also a small gallery in the back of the shop, which is currently exhibiting HOTT SHEETS, a playful, witty look at the value of contemporary art.

The Value Assessment Methodology Forms are the yellow sheets that hang below each work. The work's value is determined by filling in a flow chart of specific symbols and using the information to complete the equation. Image: Wonder Fair

For $3, artists purchased a few sheets of 5x7 paper, marked with the Wonder Fair logo. The sheet of paper then became the venue for the piece of art they would make. Once submitted to Wonder Fair, the curators developed an equation to price each work. In addition to the original $3, monetary value was determined by themes, colors and trends (every trend deducted $2 from the work). The final equation looked something like this:

[(Original Cost x Media) + Colors] x (Themes / Trends) = Price

Although HOTT SHEETS is mostly having fun with its Value Assessment Methodology Form, the curators highlight important questions and conversations we should be having regarding our perception of the value of art. Trends are...well...trendy, but how sustainable are they? What makes a work of art priceless? What makes a work of art a good investment? What themes should we look for in contemporary art?

It is interesting that the initial paper cost is given. The rest of the categories, one could say, might be arbitrary numbers. How should we factor in the price of paint and color? Is one theme worth more than another?

There is an argument that, rather than museums, auction houses now determine the worth and importance of art. But what is most fascinating is the fact that a very small, one-room gallery in Lawrence is having these big conversations and allowing people to have fun with the subject (Wonder Fair is selling blank copies of the form along with a pencil and friendship bracelet). Although the Assessment Form is just an interpretation of art's value, I love to imagine how Christie's price evaluation compares.

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