Philadelphia artist Ed Hughes could use an electrician.
So if you happen to be an electrician, and you think you might want some art in your home, Hughes has a deal for you: your electrical work in exchange for his mixed-media metal-on-wood panels with enamel-based paint, now on display at the SoHa Gallery & Salon in Haddon Heights.
Hughes is one of 16 artists - most of whom regularly show their work in galleries - in a new Art4Barter exhibit that debuted in Fishtown in January, moved to its current Jersey home last month, has a date in Manhattan's West Village beginning Saturday, and then will go wherever anyone offers a venue in exchange for a painting by organizer Antonio Puri of West Chester.
"As far as bartering, I thought that was quite a unique idea," said Hughes. "Other trades put a value on [their] work. We can pass that on."
All the art in the exhibit is available for barter of some sort, with the artist's desires usually noted on a card posted on the wall under information about the painting.
Ellissa Collier, for example, is open to a variety of offers in exchange for an untitled spiderwebby-kaleidescopish work that involves paint on paper with strips of tape:
"Tax preparation from H&R Block, art supplies, yards of bubble wrap, fabric, and 30 rolls of 400-speed film."
Erica Brown is looking for 200 pounds of the cosmetic-grade beeswax she uses in her work - which, at $3 a pound, translates to a rather specific cash equivalent for this barter.
Brown said the show was a good way to bring artists together with other artists and with the broader community.
"There's such a separation between people who create art and people who come to see the shows," she said. "It makes it more real. You see the supplies [artists need]. I'm possibly open to other proposals, something I haven't thought of."
Puri, an artist originally from Chandigarh in the Indian Himalayas, where bartering is common (though he said that link occurred to him only after the fact), feels that the economic climate has made bartering a natural for the art world, where artists frequently trade works among themselves.
Bartering apparently has caught on in other areas as well; the barter site on Craigslist Philadelphia features such offers as "moving labor for laptop" and an electrician looking to barter his services for "Tickets for sporting events (eagles, phillies), T-shirt printing, Fishing boat, Work truck/van, Car or motorcycle 1200 or bigger or tools" - but not art.
"I've been bartering for a long time," said Puri, who has exchanged paintings for studio space. "Based on the economic situation, I decided this would be a perfect time to organize something. While artists may be needing goods and services right now, people can't afford to get art. You find art missing in people's lives. This is maybe a chance to give people art as well."
At the opening wine-and-cheese reception Feb. 25, there were 16 offers for works, all subject to final negotiations with the artists.
One of them was Tanya Murphy Dodd, whose photograph Just Around the Bend caught the eye of Haddon Township Commissioner Paul Dougherty. Murphy Dodd was seeking electrical, plumbing, or dental work - or tutoring in Japanese - but accepted Dougherty's offer of legal services.
The reception was underwritten by Christine Hopkins, owner of the SoHa Gallery & Salon, in exchange for a painting of Puri's she had seen at the show in Fishtown. Hopkins' hairdressing services were in demand at the reception, and she was negotiating for several pieces of art.
She said she had been eager to host the exhibit as a way of drawing attention to her new salon/gallery, which she hoped would anchor a new arts and theater district in the south Haddon Township (SoHa) area, which already is home to the historic Ritz Theatre in Oaklyn.
"I would have offered to host anyway," she said - even if Puri's swirly abstract watercolor were not hanging in her salon. "All of the artists that showed were very excited about the idea. It's more of a conversation starter.
"A lot of people don't have any art in their lives," she said, echoing Puri.
Artist Celestine Hughes - wife of the electrician-seeking artist Ed - is looking for art supplies and has a target value, $800, in mind for her glass sculpture House of Harmony. (This month in a juried show at Chestnut Hill's Woodmere Art Museum, her five-foot glass sculpture Of Birds, Of Feathers, I Do Declare! will be for sale for $10,000.)
"I think in these economic hard times, artists are the ones that really suffer a great deal," she said. "Art is the last thing a person is going to include in their budget. It's great for artists to think outside of the box."
Not everybody is impressed with the concept. Michael Rushton, an Indiana University professor who studies the economics of art, called the barter idea "extremely inefficient" - more of a publicity stunt than a true alternative way to get something of value for an artist's work.
"I see it as not an awfully important thing," he said. "The barter in modern times is a bit of a gimmick, really. It's a fairly ineffective way to go about your business. The electrician always had the option of going to an art fair and a gallery and looking for things. . . . All you've done is made things more difficult for obtaining the services."
But Puri is having none of that. Open to any offers to host an Art4Barter exhibit in exchange for a work of art, he envisions the show as a kind of traveling community-building concept, where local artists will be featured as well. He hopes it will be ongoing, ultimately supplemented by an Art4Barter Web site.
"I think it's a respectable way of trading," he said. "It's not a way to replace the normal capitalist way of thinking. It's an alternative and addition that breaks down these class barriers, and breaks down cultural barriers."
If You Go
The Art4Barter show continues through 9 p.m. Wednesday at SoHa Gallery & Salon, 1001 White Horse Pike, Haddon Heights (856-854-0200). It will be at 55 Bethune St. in New York from Saturday through March 21.