Garcia's legacy goes corporate

About 70 examples of counterculture icon's artwork on display at White Marsh hotel

February 25, 2007|By Gadi Dechter | Gadi Dechter,Sun reporter

A long, strange trip it's been from hippie Haight Street to a White Marsh Hilton, but more than a decade after his death, Jerry Garcia's legacy keeps on keeping on - and commanding $70,000 for a signed watercolor.

So perhaps it's fitting that a touring show "featuring one of the largest collections ... ever assembled for public display" of the Grateful Dead bandleader's artwork made its local stop yesterday at a business hotel tucked between Corporate Drive and Mercantile Road.

A musical icon of the 1960s counterculture movement who commanded a massive, multigenerational following until his death in 1995, Garcia cultivated a folksy, anti-establishment, papa-bear-on-pot image.

"I don't think this would be Jerry's style," said Kathy Krueger, 44, of the small corporate meeting room where about 70 Garcia pieces - ranging from sentimental landscapes to surrealistic watercolors - lined the walls.

Though the prices, averaging in the low five-figures for signed prints, were beyond Krueger's budget, the self-described "Deadhead" says she believes Garcia's artistic abilities merit them.

"I really like the Reluctant Dragon," she said, pointing to a $3,500 lithograph of a cartoonish green monster. "If I could afford it, I would buy it."

Her 9-year-old daughter, Molly, approved the choice, though she only knows of Garcia as "a famous person" and prefers the music of pop singer Hilary Duff.

Show organizer John Sozanski, who has been selling Garcia's artistic output since 1992, says prices have appreciated by about 25 percent every year and are still a relative bargain.

"Getting a Garcia now is like getting a Picasso at the beginning of the 20th century," said the Pennsylvania-based dealer, who specializes in art made by musicians and actors.

Garcia studied at the San Francisco Art Institute before joining the band that became the Grateful Dead. Perhaps best known artistically for making zany neckties that were an ironic comment on business attire, Garcia didn't begin painting in earnest until awakening from a diabetic coma in the mid-1980s, Sozanski said.

In 1995, after a long battle with heroin addiction, the 53-year-old Garcia died of a heart attack at a California drug-rehabilitation center. Before his death, he had signed only about half of the 500-edition lithographs made of his artworks, Sozanski said.

Prints with the artist's signature are more highly prized, the dealer said, while the most ever paid for a Garcia original is about $100,000.

The first signed edition of Paris in the Rain, a somber drawing of a woman strolling along the Seine, was on offer yesterday for $8,000. A later edition, with a silk-screened autograph, could be had for only $600.

Even that was a bit steep for Bryan Kocsis, 46, of White Marsh. Still, the veteran of a dozen Grateful Dead concerts said he and his wife, Patty, enjoyed getting a sweeping look at Garcia's artistic oeuvre.

"We're excited to be able to see the whole collection in one spot," said Kocsis, as the Grateful Dead's "Black Muddy River" played softly in the background.

The multimedia director for Union Memorial Hospital said he had attained insight into the "mind of the musician."

"The art helps you better appreciate the music," Kocsis said. "He had a very vivid imagination. It's sad that he's gone."

gadi.dechter@baltsun.com

The show will be open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. today at the White Marsh Hilton Garden Inn. Admission is free.

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