By  on August 31, 2007

BOSTON — The original art was on sale for about the price of a Gap hoodie.

An irresistible combination, or so thought hipster Bostonians who jammed the Rhys Gallery on Tuesday for "Proof of Purchase," which featured miniworks priced at $50 apiece from about 400 artists who donated the postcard-size pieces to benefit the School of the Museum of Fine Arts scholarship fund.

If the price wasn't enticing enough, there was the allure of mystery. The works were numbered and propped anonymously on steel ledges running all over the gallery.

Buyers weren't told who they had scored until after they had paid and received "proof of purchase." Had they spotted an original Kiki Smith, a renowned sculptor and printmaker whose works sell for as much as six figures, or had they fallen in love with the work of a freshman at the Museum School?

Ultimately, it didn't seem to matter because 90 minutes after opening the South End space to a waiting crowd, the gallery owned by Colin Rhys, 22, was stripped bare. Gone was the Georgia O'Keefe-esque rendering of antlers, the Mr.-T-with-horns collage, and a watercolor of red-jacketed children walking in snow.

The effort raised more than $20,000.

"How do you like this, huh? Is it crazy or what?" said Rhys, clad in a slim-cut Dolce & Gabbana pinstripe suit, dashing over to help unclog the checkout process.

Six months ago, Rhys, a Museum School graduate who opened his elegant gallery across the street from one of Boston's oldest homeless shelters, sent out word of the project and 4-by-6-inch pieces of cardstock to alumni and supporters.

Each piece of white cardstock had simple printed instructions on the reverse asking artists to sign, and indicate the piece's composition materials and hanging orientation. They came back in bunches — sketched, stitched, collaged, waxed, felted and jeweled. There were inks, oils, acrylics and watercolors, prints, photographs and several sculptures jutting off cardstock.

Raul Gonzalez, a Mexican artist living in Somerville, Mass., sent in a highly detailed watercolor series commemorating service jobs. Fifties-era couples board a train, have dinner and undertake other leisure activities waited on by a brown-skinned robot."I think this is by my professor and his work is so expensive — thousands of dollars. If I'm right, this is the only way I could afford him," said artist Evelyn Rydz, who guessed right and became the proud owner of a Gerry Bergstein, featuring George Washington, a broomstick and a star-clotted sky reminiscent of "Star Wars."

Interior designer Judy Bernier waited almost 40 minutes — frequently shifting preschooler Cali on her hip — to purchase two pieces.

"This was on the wall for five minutes," said Lydia Ruby, flashing a collage in red canvas, yarn and acrylic paint. "And I just met the woman who made it."

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