They're the size of baseball cards, but unlike that variety of hit-or-miss collectible, art trading cards are never assigned a monetary value. Within the size limitations of the cards, however, anything goes, and anyone can participate, either through the mail or at ATC centers, where folks get together in person to deal their miniature masterpieces. In other words, you don't have to be artsy to become an ATC trader.
The practice originated in Europe and was brought to North America by Canadian artist Don Mabie (aka Chuck Stake). Now, it's slowly taking hold in Denver, where local architect, paper-doll artist and ATC fanatic Victoria Regina has opened what appears to be the first trading center on U.S. soil. It's open for business every second Saturday of the month, and anyone is welcome. Just don't get too attached to your bounty.
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"Art trading cards are an anti-dogmatic practice," notes Regina. "It brings art back down to earth. Instead of elevating it to the 'holy' gallery level, this takes it down to the pop-culture level. It's not a case of 'mine is better than yours'; it's more of a way to find out what other people do." If a little more effort goes into creating a card -- maybe it's a tiny but original signed lithograph -- you might be able to insist on a two-for-one trade, but that's about it. And unlike the usual kind of artist-association meeting, there are no politics involved. "People show up, have their cards, lay them out, have coffee and doughnuts," Regina says. "It's just like trading baseball cards -- you chat about your work, you trade cards. Imagine if you could go into a gallery and trade artworks: 'I'll trade my painting for your sculpture over there.'" Like we said, anything goes.
And the invitation is out: "The fun is in creating them," Regina maintains. "Sometimes people have art trading-card parties, where they all get together for an evening to create the cards. Then when you go to the trading session, it's like Christmas Eve. No flier can do it justice. You have to actually experience it."