The latest 'Thing' in art, delivered

The first piece from "The Thing" art club in San Francisco by artist Miranda July -- a word-scrawled window shade. This piece was sent to monthly subscribers, and a new piece from a different artist will be sent next.

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Doug Krizner: There may be questions about the economy, but the art world seems to be doing just fine. Today in New York, Sotheby's will hold its first old-masters auctions of the year. It's expected to rake in as much as $100 million.

At the other end of the spectrum, mail-order art. Mail-order art, yes -- of-the-month clubs, too, and their business seems to be booming, as Julie Caine reports from San Francisco.


Julie Caine: We're in a converted flower shop in the heart of San Francisco's Mission District. A bunch of mostly young enthusiasts work at a long table covered with rubber stamps, tape dispensers, and cardboard mailing tubes.

Art Enthusiast: They go to the middle of the table here. Right now they are demanding so many of them, that you don't even have to ask -- they just, they're asking us for them.

They're wrapping this season's "Thing." The Thing is a locally-made, mass-produced work of art. It's delivered to subscribers quarterly. Think of it as a kind of "fruit of the month" club for art lovers.

The first edition of "The Thing" came out last September. It was pull-down window shades that artist Miranda July designed with slogans.

Jonn Herschend: "If this shade is down, I'm begging your forgiveness on bended knee with tears streaming down my face."

That's Thing co-creator Jonn Herschend:

Herschend: And the other one is, "If this shade is down, I'm not who you think I am."

Since September, the company has signed about 850 subscribers worldwide who pay $120 a year to get art delivered to their doorstep.

But even the creators say it's not a perfect business model. For one thing, telephone calls, printer cartridges, postage and production all add up.

And for another, Herschend's co-creator, Will Rogan, says their art is never one-size-fits-all.

Will Rogan: You know, it's going to be a different size every single time, you don't know what it's going to be, you don't know how much it's going to weigh, you don't know how much it's going to cost to produce? That's ridiculous.

But at least they're breaking even. For a fledging business run by local artists with a non-corporate business model, that's pretty good. The Thing has sold more than $100,000 worth of subscriptions since September.

Rogan: It's like the most money in a bank account that's had my name on it, ever.

In San Francisco, I'm Julie Caine for Marketplace.

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