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Mystery L.E.S. Art Club to Deliver Secret Masterpieces

By Serena Solomon | January 22, 2013 8:00am

LOWER EAST SIDE — For those who find the New York art scene in need of an extra burst of excitement, a new club is offering a tantalizing round of members-only mystery art deliveries.

Oliphaunt started up last month to redefine art patrons' experience and generate income for local artists, using clues, secrets and an exclusive membership badge.

For a $1,200 annual fee, members are given a series of clues that hint at the mystery pieces of art that will arrive at their doorstep at quarterly intervals throughout the year.

"Secrecy is a high-priced commodity," said Derrick Cruz, 41, the creative director for Oliphaunt and a Lower East Side artist. "Privacy doesn't exist anymore. Secrecy is almost out the window, too."

The idea of Oliphaunt is to tease members through regular newsletters with tantalizing bits of information that allude to what masterpiece might be arriving.

"In withholding, you are actually giving people power," said Cruz of how he hopes the process will encourage members to guess what the incoming artwork might be. 

Cruz is planning to coordinate the pieces to the seasons, with the first work due to arrive in March.

When a member joins — Cruz said several have signed up already — they receive a badge that is itself a work of art. The piece, a brass mammoth skull made by Cruz with an engraved identification number, serves as a pin or pendant that members can wear.

"They would have instant camaraderie," said Cruz of how he imagines a chance meeting between two Oliphaunt members both sporting their skull badges. "They would instantly have a connection and probably share something they wouldn't say to anyone else — that they are part of the club."

The concept for Oliphaunt was born about four years ago out of Occulture, a collective of several local artists that Cruz belongs to on Essex Street.

"It evolved out of a frustration of wanting to be prolific and take a lot of chances, as well as keep up with the markets, wholesalers and galleries," he said.

But Cruz said the suspense has been lost in the regular gallery experience.

"Everyone knows everything before it happens. Something is going to go up in a gallery, and people go on the website to see the work. They judge it before they even go there," he said.

Oliphaunt also generates cash flow for artists, who will most likely be from the New York area, Cruz explained. With the membership fee that can be paid quarterly, artists receive funds before they begin work.

"They will be like, 'Wow, I can make this without any worries and just focus on the idea,'" he said.

Cruz said he hopes the Oliphaunt concept will spur other mystery art clubs for all different tastes and budgets.

"It creates a direct connection to the patron," he said.