April 28 2004 12:00 AM

3 Minutes to Happiness breaks the tax-bracket barrier for fans of cutting edge art

    In the nation's third most expensive city to live, art truly does imitate life: it's unaffordable for most. The disparity between those who appreciate art and those who can afford it leaves a lot of young San Diego hipsters with few options besides mass-reproduced, Ikea-type generica.

    The 3 Minutes of Happiness show at the Selective Hearing Gallery is changing that, at least for a few weeks. Every piece of art in the group show is priced at $150-about half the cost of a new iPod.

    An important distinction must be made. And that is, there's a difference between affordable, quality art and cheap wall decoration. It's sorta like the difference between that vintage flea market treasure and the garage sale castoff.

    3 Minutes of Happiness isn't "about bringing cheap art or art that isn't worth much money," says Nick Wilkinson, who co-curates the show along with Chako Suzuki. "The idea is to make art accessible to young people. We want young people like ourselves to come and spend money on art and collect art."

    Pieces by these emerging and established artists normally sell for $500 to $1,000, Suzuki explains, but at 3 Minutes patrons won't have to choose between enhancing their pad and paying rent on it.

    "Maybe this is the only time that could happen-so I think that's why this show's really cool," says Suzuki.

    A number of factors determine pricing in art, including subject matter, complexity, detail, cost of materials and the blood, sweat and obsession it takes to create the piece. But pricing also depends on perceived value-that often fickle little thing called popularity.

    But just as Britney Spears might not appeal to those who prefer the lo-fi literacy of indie rock, Selective Hearing Gallery isn't interested in carrying what Wilkinson calls the "monotonous" mainstream art found in most local galleries. He's focused on bringing fresh creations to the local scene.

    The show includes work from more than 30, mostly young artists, including Cody Hudson, Jim Houser, Rebecca Westcott, Souther Salazar, Derrick Hodgson and Michael Leon. The gallery is run by RE:UP magazine, which tracks the music, art, culture and lifestyle surrounding "downbeatempo" music-what the magazine calls "the sweet, creamy center between downtempo, dub and hip hop."

    RE:UP publisher and creative director Joshua Lynne and Wilkinson formed the gallery to feature the art of magazine contributors, as well as other like-minded artists. So most works at 3 Minutes are dominated by a graphic-design sensibility.

    "The RE:UP sense and feeling for art is different than what everybody else is showing," Suzuki claims.

    Lynne says a lot of the artists are fans of the magazine-"scenester-illustrators" inspired by pop-culture pastimes like comic books, skateboarding, music, animation, graphic design, fashion and graffiti.

    The title 3 Minutes of Happiness is borrowed from a store in Shibuya-the trendy art-fashion-music district in Tokyo. The Japanese store stocks everything from housewares, office supplies and cosmetics to clothing, accessories and food-all at super-cheap prices.

    "You can walk in, pick out a bunch of stuff, it's affordable, and you're set-for your house, for your body, for your stomach," explains Suzuki.

    The link between the Tokyo consumer funhouse and the art show highlights the ongoing dialogue between art and commerce. The line between the two is continually smudging. Increasingly, Americans seek art and meaning in our products-from skateboard decks that reflect a sense of identity, to tasty club flyers that verge on the collectible, to the aestheticizing of goods like bicycles and computer hardware.

    With its financially painless price point, 3 Minutes of Happiness makes art a likely alternative to other consumer goods.

    "We want people our age to come in and see that everything's $150-that's comparable to the other material things they're buying, like shoes and clothes and albums," says Suzuki. "We want them to see they should be investing in art."

    3 Minutes of Happiness runs through May 10 at the Selective Hearing Gallery (828 G St., Downtown). 619-236-8007.


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