Off The Wall: Psychedelic Art Exchange
- By Kerri Pinchuk
- Published on July 24, 2012
“This stuff should be in the Smithsonian,” Glen Trosch said as he slid another plastic-protected poster out of the safe like a curator would handle an original Van Gogh or Matisse.
On this one, a familiar skeleton in a crown of flowers smiles up, flanked by a red rose bush and cascading petals. It’s an advertisement for a September 1966 show at San Francisco’s Avalon Ballroom – incredibly rare and early poster art for The Grateful Dead.
But the mint-condition treasure is just one of many (think Hendrix, The Doors, Joplin and lots of Jefferson Airplane) that pass through Baltimore’s Psychedelic Art Exchange, one of the country’s top sources for vintage rock art.
Trosch, 48, is a collector of and expert in 1960s counterculture, and his business partner Scott Tilson has been called “the Warren Buffet of collecting.” When Tilson purchased that Grateful Dead piece, the childhood friends realized the incredible market for psychedelic concert posters. They decided to open up a high-end store selling mint condition quality posters to music lovers and serious collectors.
Psychedelic Art Exchange’s carefully selected inventory arrives from auctions and archives across the country in addition to consignments that come in via the store’s website. Each piece then goes through an intense grading and certification process before being priced and sold. Asking prices fall between $50.00 and $15,000, but extreme rarities like a Grateful Dead Aoxomoxoa-inspired poster for a canceled show in Hawaii earns a price tag of $75,000.
“We’re doing this on a whole different level,” Trosch said.
And his encyclopedic knowledge of music and history proves that the venture is about much more than money. He can wax poetic for hours about San Francisco in the 60s and the imagery, form and artistic detail behind each of his posters.
“We’re going balls to the wall with this because we believe in it,” he added. “It’s gonna rock this whole world.”
Both lifetime collectors, the men say the psychedelic art market is among the most lucrative. As opposed to other rare collectibles like stamps, coins and baseball cards that are created for the purposes of preservation and trade, rock posters were made for advertising and are therefore exceedingly rare. Some were printed in batches of only 100 before being hung up and stapled or crumpled and trashed.
“At their time of issue, the only ones interested in this groundbreaking art were teenagers who were fanatical about the bands and music,” Tilson wrote on the gallery’s website. “It is indeed a miracle that any have survived in mint condition today.”
Above all, the posters are works of art. And Psychedelic Art Exchange brings them in reach of the general public – whether serious collectors, music fans or baby-boomers who have the money to fund the nostalgia.
The Baltimore studio/gallery is situated on the ground floor of an unassuming brick building in Hampden – Baltimore’s kitschy-but-getting-cooler neighborhood. And, thanks to Trosch, visiting the Psychedelic Art Exchange is like taking a trip back in time.
Neon colors and psychedelic, barely legible text (not to mention legendary names) pop off the framed posters that are hung salon style on high white walls. On a plain sheet of computer paper taped to the wall, Trosch has printed a lengthy quote about 1960s San Francisco from Hunter S. Thompson’s “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.”
Trosch thrills as he sorts through stacks of the vintage treasures. One poster advertises April 1970 shows at the Fillmore West headlined by The Grateful Dead and Miles Davis Quintet. Another touts what was to be The Beatles’ last official public show, 1966 in Candlestick Park. On another, there’s an image of a “photogenic” (read: shirtless) Jim Morrison. Each poster, flyer and ticket stub is an original in impossibly pristine condition.
Perhaps even more impressive than the Psychedelic Art Exchange’s cache is Trosch’s overwhelming enthusiasm for the stuff. He drags out his go-to textbook, Paul Grushkin’s massive tome “The Art of Rock,” a visual art history of rock and roll “from Presley to punk.” To guys like Trosch, it’s the Bible, but with way better pictures.
In the beginning, he says, there was a guy named Ken Kesey. And he leads the way down the rabbit hole. He talks about the influence of the beatniks, 1950s American youth like Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and Neal Cassady, who were among the first to challenge rigid societal norms.
He points to a yellow poster framed on the wall. “Can you pass the acid test?” it asks. It’s a 1965 flyer for a show featuring Ginsberg, Cassady, The Grateful Dead and Kesey’s Merry Pranksters, who, in 1964, hopped aboard a bus bound for New York.
Soon he’s explaining The Charlatans, whose 1965 Virginia City, Nevada gigs inspired in the first-ever psychedelic rock poster, Andy Warhol, and 1973’s Summer Jam at Watkins Glen, where The Allman Brothers Band, The Band and The Grateful Dead drew a world record-breaking crowd.
He venerably lists “the big five” artists – Wes Wilson, Stanley Mouse, Alton Kelley, Victor Moscoso and personal favorite Rick Griffin – and admits to finally getting into Phish.
It’s only when he realizes that any stray spit bubbles (“I’m so excited, I’m literally frothing at the mouth.”) might damage a precious poster that he slows down and takes a breath.
Because essentially, it’s all about the art.
“There’s a real depth to this material,” Trosch said. “It’s a well of creative output from an era that captivated the world and made its mark on history.”
Find out more about Baltimore's Psychedelic Art Exchange via its official website.