The Milk Gallery Sent art show is postman-friendly

Milk Gallery

212 13th St.
Sacramento, CA 95814

(916) 539-7159

A partial list of items that made their way through the United States Postal Service and onto the walls at the downtown Milk Gallery: A purse covered in paper and filled with peanuts, a painting in a frame, a tiny diorama of pine trees in a plastic milk bottle, a funk art-styled papier-mâché head, and many, many small paper works of art and decorated envelopes.

The conceit of this show—named simply Sent—exploits a little known fact about the oft-maligned USPS: they will allow you to send any object in the mail, unwrapped, if it is properly addressed and has the correct amount of postage.

To be included in Sent, an artist needed to abide by two rules: The works had to travel through the mail, and they had to arrive ready to hang—hence, the unwrapped items. The resulting show is a chaotically hung exhibition featuring more than 400 works of art from all over the world.

All the works are for sale, and the price is a negotiation between the buyer and the proprietors of Milk Gallery, Amy Greer and Melanie Bown. Most artists specified a minimum amount, but, beyond that, Bown says, “The idea is for people to think about how you value art … think about how long you think this would take to make and think about how much you make per hour at your job.”

Bown and Greer recognize that they would be unable to keep track of the sales for this many pieces, so the minute a piece of art is purchased, it walks right out the door with the buyer. During the March 8 opening reception, works were snapped up at a brisk pace as a Willie Nelson-esque crooner strummed in the corner.

Bown pointed out a particularly clever piece by an artist named Diablo: Two envelopes covered in pencil doodlings, each with a tamper-evident seal on the back and a fake $100 bill clearly visible inside. This work plays with the theme of trust; the letters arrived intact, but if they had been opened it would have been clear that a tampering mail clerk trusted that the bills were real.

When asked for her favorite work, Greer chose the largest piece in the show: an assemblage of 100 letters by Oran Miller, arranged to form a painting of a mysterious woman gazing into the eyes of the viewer.

The artist, in attendance on opening night, says he considered himself lucky because he was the only artist who was able to hang his own work.

Miller was coy about discussing the subject of the painting and the content of its 100 letters, but forthcoming about his offbeat materials: beet juice and ink suspended in coffee and cola. Miller says he “just guessed” that the sugar in cola would bind the ink, and that his creativity with pigment was borne of necessity because, “that much ink would cost $40.”

This, and other standout works in Sent hearken back to a pre-Internet time of fan letters, pen pals and print zines. The days when your pulse raced at the sight of the mailman may be long gone, but for a brief spell at Milk Gallery, mail still exuded bit of mystery and glamour.