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Clearance sale for collectors

The first rule of collecting is: Buy what you love. But, in a slight twist to an old adage, try to fall in love with the best art you can possibly afford.

For my money, the art sold through Graphicstudio is as good as you can get in the Tampa Bay area. Serious collectors have beaten a path to this out-of-the-way atelier on the University of South Florida campus in Tampa during its 34-year history for limited edition works on paper and sculptures.

The quality of its printmaking has drawn top contemporary artists, first from around the country and now from around the world, to collaborate with master printers. And if names such as Rosenquist, Rauschenberg, Ruscha, Dine, Pearlstein, Mapplethorpe, Scharf and Wegman don't impress you, consider that a work from every series is snapped up by the National Gallery of Art for its permanent collection.

Most of the work produced at Graphicstudio is sold to series subscribers at discounted prices (more about that shortly). A limited number of prints is available to the public at top dollar. Once a year, though, the studio opens its formidable inventory to the public for a sale of past and present work, many with major discounts that aren't offered any other time.

That sale takes place from 7 to 10 p.m. Friday, with a preview beginning at noon. If you can't make the sale, you can telephone your selections to the studio after noon. Hundreds of works will be offered, including rare prints from the 1980s by James Rosenquist, a 1986 sculpture, Tibetan Garden Song, by Robert Rauschenberg and a recent photogravure by Chuck Close. Prices range from several hundred dollars to five figures.

Graphicstudio/The Research Institute for Art was founded in 1968 as a nonprofit, university-based facility. Its mission has been to provide a studio in which artists can collaborate with master printers. In experimenting with new techniques, it has taken the art of printmaking into new territory.

USF pays for its staff and rent, but the studio has to raise its own program and operating funds. Materials and equipment for such a facility are costly, and when it first opened the public was not as savvy about the nature of printmaking, so there were no guaranteed sales of the work produced.

Graphicstudio founder Donald Staff came up with the ingenious idea of selling subscriptions. A handful of early supporters anted up several thousand dollars each, like patron-level memberships to a museum, then had the option of purchasing any or all of the work produced that year for a modest sum of $150 each. What a deal. Many of those works today, if you could even find them to purchase, would easily cost thousands of dollars.

It's still a deal. The subscription rate is now $6,500, and the cost of each of the eight works offered annually is $250.

Even if you cannot afford to buy anything, consider going to the preview. The range and quality of work is remarkable and demonstrates the breadth and scope of printmaking.

This is a straightforward sale, not an auction with multiple bidders, so the first offer is the last.

If you think you'd like to become a subscriber to this year's crop of collaborations (artists under consideration include Ed Ruscha, Jim Campbell, Roxy Paine, Vik Muniz, Kiki Smith and Fred Tomaselli), Graphicstudio has a small number of subscriptions left. For information, call Noel Smith at (813) 974-5866.