The worlds of high art and cannabis have collided. Facilitating this collision is the weed communities wunderkind, 22-year-old Ben Milstein. Milstein started in the cannabis industry as an investor but now focuses on bringing high-end glass to art collectors with deep pockets.
Like every sector of the cannabis industry, the glass blowers and bong-makers are experiencing a boom. Any piece of glass that can be used to smoke weed is referred to as functional glass, and the value for artistic and intricate functional pieces has exploded in the past few years.
While the values continue to balloon, Milstein didn’t get into functional glass for monetary gain. “I didn’t get into this thinking about a business opportunity,” he said, “I didn’t know where I was going to put my money in the cannabis world.”
Before he would become the main player in the high-end functional glass industry, Millstein started out as an admirer of the craft. He believes that glass bongs, when approached as an art form, can be as confronting as marble statues.
After Milstein had been a functional glass collector for about two years, he started to formulate a business strategy. “Everyone I talked to about this was blown away by the novelty of it,” he says. “The opportunity was growing,” he said. “I was one of the only people who knew about this stuff who wasn’t in the cannabis world, I came at it from the investment side.”
Milstein’s advantage came from being an enthusiast for high-end functional pieces. “I had some of the best work from the best artists in the world,” he said, “and I knew enough to talk about it. That’s the most important part of selling art.”
This growing collection and deepening knowledge led Milstein to start Grey Space Art, a gallery to help sell and display his collection.
While glass blowing has gained more and more prominence as an artistic medium, largely thanks to functional glass, there are still dangers. “The scariest state is Idaho. They have very archaic paraphernalia laws.” Idaho’s penalties for possession of paraphernalia can be up to a year in jail and a thousand dollar fine. For manufacturing, the fine can be $30,000, and the prison time up to nine years.
That threat looms, but it hasn’t been much of a worry for Milstein. Even though there’s a lingering taboo around paraphernalia, he has no problem insuring his art collection. That insurance means he can ship art safely around the country with little worries. Internationally, the problems can be a bit more severe. Artists from Japan, for example, face steeper penalties than even Idahoans.
The best parallel for the high-end functional glass market is the high-end art market. Since WWII, high-end art has been incrementally increasing in value. Milstein expects a similar climb in the functional glass world. While this is great for investors and collectors like him, there are some consequences.
“I think there will be more failures within this medium. A smaller amount of elite artists will start to rise to the top as this thing grows larger, as is usually the case,” says Milstein.
Whatever the process, Milstein’s own collection has gained value and more pieces. Most notably, a $300,000. The extreme price tags make it crucial for Milsten to connect with people from the art industry who are interested in expensive artwork.
“I’m spending all my time figuring out how to make this grow in the fine art world. How to get it to the right people, and show them what a great investment it is,” says Milstein.
For now, Milstein’s efforts are mainly to grow the industry and help artists gain exposure. He also wants to help more people get into collecting glass.
Gray Space Art, Milstein’s gallery, is still unique in both the cannabis and art industries. Perhaps it’s the biggest step the functional glass world as taken toward complete artistic legitimacy. Even still, it has some major steps left to take.
“The next step I’ll probably take is looking for a museum show,” says Milstein. A museum show would be a tool for exposure, but also another step in cementing the legitimacy of the piece as valuable art. “You know, when people see something in a museum, they know it belongs in a museum.”
Gray Space Art has art shows to sell some of the collection it has built up. The next one is November 8th, in Venice, California. For anybody looking to build their own collection, Milstein has some advice.
“Two artists on the rise right now are Trevy Metal and Rye,” says Milstein. These two artists are young enough that the price points for their work are not yet astronomical. “If you want to break into this industry but not spend $50,000 dollars, these are two guys you could look to,” he says.
Beyond that, for anybody looking to build their own collection, it needs to start from a passionate place. “If you love art, and the art you love continues to gain value, then you might have a knack for this. Once that happens, then you come at it from a quantitative approach.”