Gallery director Jennifer Glave said she's been surprised at the response she's gotten. Even before the show was officially announced, she received calls and e-mails from as far away as North Carolina and Florida.
"People want to have a part of his creativity," says April Higashi, the Jerry Garcia Estate art director.
"If it speaks to you, you've got a connection to Jerry," adds the Rentz Gallery's B.J. Kocen, "because obviously it spoke to him. He drew it."
When the art was delivered to the gallery, once the courier found out what was in the crates, he shared a Garcia story of his own. He was in a club in Washington, D.C., watching Dizzy Gillespie, and he spotted Garcia across the room and went over to ask for an autograph. He didn't have any paper so Garcia signed the sketch of Gillespie he was working on. Apparently Garcia was constantly sketching or scribbling something, and that's why the Estate is trying to track down and archive any of his lost art.
The work at Rentz covers several techniques. There are character studies in ink, watercolor landscapes and psychedelic digital images. When asked if they'd hold up in the art world, Glave says some would, some wouldn't, but the gallery chose to show the work because they wanted to have a fun rock 'n'roll show for the summer. Yet Higashi points out that Garcia studied at the San Francisco Art Institute and that he "has wonderful line quality in some of his character sketches."
Nevertheless, Higashi says most of his work has been sold to fans. The shows tend to draw both fans and respectful admirers, people, she says, who are curious about his legacy and want to know why he meant so much to people.
Garcia wasn't so caught up in perfecting a technique, Higashi says: "It was about play and experimentation and escape. And I think there's a lot of experimentation in his work; some of them are more well thought-out and some are quick sketches."
The Rentz Gallery show includes signed prints and numbered editions approved by the Estate. Just one small $11,000 pen-and-ink drawing of a bird dressed in top hat and suit is a signed original. According to Higashi, there are 500 pieces of art that the Estate knows about and only 60 or 70 images that have been released on print. This "art tour" will last through 2005 and is only the second time the Estate has put together a show of Garcia's work. The first was a much smaller series of exhibits in 2001.
The value of the work, like any other work of art, is dependent on the market. A signed Jerry Garcia album poster is for sale on the Internet for $15,000. By comparison, his art is a bargain at approximately $1,500 for a hand-signed, numbered print. But if you're a fan just looking for a piece of memorabilia, the Estate-stamped prints in the $500 range may be more your speed.
"I think the original and the hand-signed pieces will go up in value," Higashi says. "The Estate editions we priced reasonably. I think people should buy them because they enjoy his art instead of looking at them as an investment, but I'm not saying they won't go up in value. and people do sell them. They trade them too." The Estate also helps put buyers in touch with sellers and has a waiting list of people looking to buy particular pieces.
In addition to managing the actual artwork, the Estate has also licensed his art to appear on products. They have continued a project he began, producing Garcia ties. Last year, they branched out to license tote bags, scarves and wine. While Garcia didn't drink much wine, Higashi explains that the Estate thought it fit into their mission because Garcia grew up in Sonoma County, and the winery was a local business. The wine proved popular and sold 24,000 cases in 23 days. A new batch of 30,000 cases hit stores in early June.
According to Higashi, the art, though it has Garcia's signature on it, is not a huge moneymaker for the Estate. "I know the [family] members feel strongly about having it out there for his image as well as his memory," she says. Higashi points out that the art provides an opportunity for people to see who Garcia was separate from the Grateful Dead. The art is also a remembrance of his creativity apart from some of the drug-related images of his music.
The Rentz's Kocen says they're excited to see who will show up. "I think we have an opportunity to continue what he enjoyed, and that is Deadheads and typical gallery-goers [coming together]. Someone's going to talk about his music, and someone's going to talk about the value of his art, and they're both going to learn something." S
The Jerry Garcia Art Tour and Baron Wolman photographs will be shown at Rentz Gallery, 1700 W. main St., through Aug. 25. For information call 358-5338.
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