The definition of art may be somewhat ungraspable, but there’s no denying the artistic value and intent behind Grey Space Art‘s catalogue of luxury bongs and pipes. Founder Benjamin Milstein’s new pop-up art gallery inside LA’s Chateau Marmont attests to this. Here, visitors will find 25 bongs by roughly 30 artists (some pieces were collaboratively made). These items cross the bridge between cannabis paraphernalia and blown glass wonderworks. Colors pop. Inspiration has been drawn from the unlikely. And maybe a buyer could smoke from one if they’re willing to part ways with a sum between $3,000 and $300,000. (That said, and it’s worth emphasizing, people do not often smoke from pieces in their art collection.) Ideally, they’ll appreciate in value like other sculptures. At the minimum though, they’re pieces to covet and talk about.
This isn’t Milstein’s first efforts in the cannabis industry. As a teenager, he invested in stocks pertaining to marijuana-related businesses. With marijuana’s legalization in some states shortly thereafter, he found his returns to be astronomical. As a next step, he began investing in an ancillary cannabis company in early 2013—while still a teenager. During a summit, he sat next to a bong-manufacturer from Austin and the rest is history. A visit to the man’s factory revealed a nearby warehouse with artists blowing functional glass art—sculptures you could smoke from—and Milstein was taken. “It was beyond the creativity,” he explains, “it was also shock that they were selling for multiple thousands of dollars.” Milstein began as a collector.
After amassing a collection of near 500 pieces, MIlstein opened Grey Space Art with a grand debut at fashion week in June 2016. “I realized at some point,” he explains, “if I was vocal about this as an art, I would be the catalyst for its growth in the art world, not just the cannabis world. That’s very exciting to me.” Interest did grow and clients manifested. From a SoHo townhouse, Milstein delivered an elevated sales experience—one that visitors would expect from any other gallery or luxury brand.
“Glass-blowing has taken so many forms. This iteration is a little bit different than historic products. It melts at a different rate so that it can be reheated for use,” he shares, explaining that it’s actually borosilicate glass, like Pyrex. “Anything that’s utilitarian has the ability to be elevated,” he continues. And it’s true. Analyzing the pieces in his collection, some are quick to reveal their functionality while others mask it—but all present their artistry upfront. “This industry will always be divided,” he says. “There are pieces that are entirely conceptual and there are pieces that are artistic but truly functional.” Milstein prefers the former.
The move from NYC to LA one year after the start of Grey Space Art marks a deeper commitment from Milstein, and a desire to explore the culture of a state that’s already made marijuana legal. The LA art scene continues to explode but its counter and sub-culture stoner heritage remains strong. Milstein wants to find where both intersect. “I’ve taken a cottage by the pooI at Chateau and I’m providing an experience that people aren’t going to be expecting,” he says, noting that he’d prefer to keep the bulk of luxuriant details private.
Milstein hasn’t face legal opposition, nor will he because he doesn’t tell his clients to smoke from the art. That said, he makes clear, “I face opposition from people that think there are legal worries around this. I’ve never been approached by any law enforcement, but I have been approached by people who may want to be buyers but don’t turn into buyers because they worry it’s illegal. These artists are making these bongs to be art pieces. If you want to smoke out of them, it transcends and becomes a functional piece, but it’s first and foremost art.” From his first art fair exhibition at Art Wynwood two years ago to the very fact that his pieces are insured by Chubbs today, there’s validation and affirmation coming from the outside world. LA should provide even greater momentum for the art dealer as the pop-up runs through the beginning of October but Milstein’s leaving his presence on the west coast open ended.
Images courtesy of Grey Space Art