Holiday Bizarre

Perhaps the erudite among you don't live paycheck-to-paycheck, even in this economy, but we do. Our December paydays aren't cooperating with Christmas shopping this year, either. We get paid on December 12 and December 26, and even if the accounting grinches turn loose of our petty cash a couple of days early, we don't relish the idea of a frantic mall romp on Christmas Eve. So, we plan to shoot the wad this week and play it fast and loose with utility termination notices until the end of the month. Sounds like a plan. Sounds like another typical Christmas season.

Our favorite aunt used to say, "You have champagne taste on a beer budget." She was right. Sadly, our budget still bites, but we drink our fair share of Freixenet, a tasty, cheap champagne, especially around the holidays. This time of year, we hum the names of local art galleries as if they were Santa's reindeer in that silly song: "On Mulcahy, on Florence, Pillsbury and Peters. On Dunn and Brown, Conduit, MAC and Boyd." We wish we'd saved up to have Dallas artist Connie Connally paint a wacky portrait of our mother-in-law's beloved cat or our brother's new baby. We can't wait to see if the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth's gift shop is as big as its Richard Serra sculpture when the new digs open Saturday. Ever anxious to convey our sophistication and good taste in holiday gifting, we're looking for unusual art and extraordinary art bargains again this year. Happily, they're still out there. Smugly, we'll tell you where to look.

Start this Friday night at Plush, Dallas' authentically alternative art gallery that has managed to stay underground and over-the-top for two solid years on South Akard in a rundown, light-industrial neighborhood, near the southern fringe of downtown Dallas. Most every Friday night, you'll find music, performance art and an off-the-wall exhibition at Plush, so why should Friday the 13th be an exception? "It's not," says gallery owner Randall Garrett, "except that we've opened the Plush boutique with all sorts of great, low-cost art schwag up for grabs." Schwag-grabbing is best accompanied by music, Garrett thinks, so he's hosting RXS and DJ Pissin' Calvin in the RXS-mas Boutique Show. The entertainment is free to encourage lavish spending on the art, which is priced from $20 to $100 and includes Teresa O'Connor's glitzy and cuddly "Teddies" and "Boogiemen"; Michael Wynne's abstract expressionist toilet rolls; vials of "Magic Ballerina Dust"; experimental music CDs by James Eck Rippie; Mexican movie posters and Garrett's own "one-off" artist books. On view in Plush's main gallery is Robert Moore's Joy of Life show, new paintings on canvas and on planks of redwood, which the artist explains sprang from his "deteriorating social structure." Moore is young, living on his own for the first time. He ran out of time and money one night, he says, and hacked up the redwood deck to use as his canvas. We suspect you could easily make Moore an offer he couldn't refuse for any recycled redwood piece in the show.

If your tastes run toward the more traditional, a nice art gift that won't bust the budget is a museum membership. The Dallas Museum of Art, the McKinney Avenue Contemporary, Dallas Contemporary Art Center (formerly DVAC), Fort Worth's Kimbell, Amon Carter and Modern Art museums all offer affordable membership packages that include invitation-only events, free or discounted exhibition tickets and even museum store discounts all year. Museum stores have a great selection of odd tchotchkes and hard-to-find art books, too, and particularly special are the shops at Fort Worth's new Modern, the DMA, the MAC and the Kimbell.

Don't forget that the Dasher-and-Prancer list of local art galleries (see above and see our gallery listings) have payment plans and backrooms, where they stash the smaller, sometimes cheaper and occasionally dusty artwork. Ask them to let you see their best art bargains this season. The economy's been challenging for them, too, so it never hurts to haggle for a discount. Maybe they'd make you a deal and even take a hot check, post-dated for December 26.

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Annabelle Massey Helber

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