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At 5:00 on August 28th, people lined up outside the frosted glass doors of Rhys Gallery. They all knew the doors wouldn’t open until 6:00, it was hot, humid, and everyone was anxious. As they waited in the heat they began to wonder,

“What wall do I want to head for?”
“Will I have to trip someone to get the piece I want?”
“Will I get a postcard by someone famous, oh who cares, I’m just going to get what I like.”

By 5:45 there were lines at each door going around the block. When the doors were unlocked on the 2nd Proof of Purchase exhibition the floodgates were opened and there was no holding back the crowds. The walls were lined with hundreds of 4x6 postcards created by emerging and established artists, all priced at $50. Artist's identities were only disclosed after you presented your "proof of purchase". For three hours the postcards few off the walls until they were white once more and all the postcards were gone.

As 9:00 approached, the line of people waiting to pay for their postcards stretched through out the gallery and those who had already paid for their artwork didn’t want to leave.

Only a few weeks before a similar event had taken place at Apex Art in New York. On the hot summer evening of July 7th, The Most Curatorial Biennial of the Universe opened and the crowd spilled out onto Church Street as the gallery filled to over flowing. And soon, in only a few months, the same phenomenon will happen again at the Royal Academy in London as hundreds of people will queue up in anticipation for the Secret Postcard Sale. The RCA has held the Secret Postcard sale for the past 13 years and it often includes postcards by artists as well known as Grayson Perry, Paula Rego, and Tracey Emin, hung on the wall next to work by the students of RCA.

What causes the kind of mass excitement for exhibitions like Proof of Purchase or the Secret Postcard Sale? Is it that you might pick up a Kiki Smith just by chance? Or is it the opportunity to afford original works of art? It’s a mixture of both with some other added ingredients. When the Daily Candy listed Proof of Purchase in their Arts & Culture section, they began with the statement, “If only buying art didn’t feel like such a commitment.” and I began to wonder if that is why so many people shy away from going to galleries; to avoid the pressure of a big purchase.

Exhibitions like Proof of Purchase are an opportunity for artists, collectors, curators and everyone else who wonders what goes on in galleries to join in, get some art work they can feel good about without having to take out a loan to get it. In addition, these shows are fundraisers, Proof of Purchase sales go to the School of the Museum of Fine Arts Scholarship Fund, sales from the Most Curatorial Biennial of the Universe went to the Robin Hood Foundation and all proceeds from the Secret Postcard Sale go directly to the RCA Fine Arts Student Award Fund. The recent success of these kinds of fundraisers comes from a growing interest in the general public to casually participate in the joy of buying quality original artwork at a fantastic price.

These fundraisers also allow artists to reach a wider public without feeling like they are devaluing their work, and they allow for young collectors to start buying artwork without the anxiety of a large purchase. For collectors, it generates excitement over artists they may have in their collections and gives them the chance to pick up someone new. These shows also generate more excitement and create greater value for participating artists pieces the next year. The woman who casually picked up the Damien Hirst at the RCA Secret Postcard Sale stated, "I am absolutely gobsmacked. My boyfriend has been painting things like this and I bought it."

This story was first told on the BBC and soon it was on every blog about the arts. Spectacles like Proof of Purchase and the Most Curatorial Biennial have been promoted and talked about in local papers and magazines like New York Residence magazine. Making a statement that these shows are for everyone, and everyone benefits from the growing participation. Artist Danielle Durchslag, previously based in Boston and now in New York, was quoted in New York Residents Magazine stating that to fit the rules she scaled down her work, “It actually challenges you to do something that you wouldn’t usually do and approach your work from an angle you wouldn’t normally,” she said. After the experience, she plans to continue experimenting with the smaller size, at least some of the time. “I think that’s a gift at the end of the day, it reveals something about your work.”

The statement in the Daily Candy crosses into the lives of the artists as well; it could just as easily be read as “If only making art didn’t always feel like such a commitment.” Sometimes artists just want to make something new and shows like Proof of Purchase allow for that to happen in an exciting way. By casually trying something out sometimes we end up with a gift, a new way of making our artwork, the gift of participation in purchasing art without the stress, and the gift of money raised for students who need it to be able to make a postcard for Proof of Purchase next year.

Rhys Gallery

"Proof Of Purchase 2" was on view August 28 - 30, 2007 at The Rhys Gallery.

All images are courtesy of the respective venues.

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