$99 Art Sale: Part art gallery, part casino


You know the old art saying – I know what I like and like what I know. Well once a year you can put that theory to the test at the Soap Factory’s annual $99 art sale. The premise is 150 works of art, all the same size, hung on the walls. You choose the ones you like well enough to purchase for $99. Once the credit card has been cleared, you get the name of the artist. Some of the artists are established and their art would fetch more than $99 in the open market. Some are emerging artists or maybe they just play artists on TV, either way their art might not fetch $99 in another forum.

It’s part art show, part art crap shoot. Except, assuming your ultimate goal is to own art you like, you come up a winner each time.

The $99 Art Sale started in 2006. According to Soap Factory Executive Director, Ben Heyward, it was modeled on the Royal College’s Secret Art project in London. Originally, the artists received postcard-sized strong cardboard as their canvas. Last year the pictures got bigger; turns out this is based on feedback from both artists and buyers. This year there was an open call to submit an artwork and Heyward did “a very, very light curation for quality and salability.”

This is the fourth year I have attended the $99 Art Sale. It is one of my favorite art events of the year. Generally when I buy art, I have some idea of where I want it to go, which means I select based on space, color or budget requirements. The $99 art goes in one room and the only theme is the origin. So I choose strictly on love of the work. As a librarian, I like the research aspect of learning more about an artist. And I hate to admit, I get a little addicted to the gambling aspect. Each year I intend to purchase one piece, but I really buy two works on the night of the event. The next day you can purchase unclaimed art for $66. Traditionally I bring my youngest daughter (now age 8) with me that day to pick up our art and she is allowed to pick one new work herself. Be darned if she doesn’t end up selected the more “established” art each time!

The event itself is always fun. This year it included great food from Chowgirls, beer from Surly and a DJ. This year the installation happened to be “Why We Do This” by Andy DuCett. My intention here is not to review that installation – except if I were reviewing it, I’d definitely say two thumbs up!

The people watching is always fun. I like to try to guess which are artists keeping an eye on their own works. I also like to see which pictures go first. One word of warning should you plan to attend yourself – if something strikes you, buy it quickly. Certain items sell fast and you can always go back to find a second or third work later. This year due babysitting issues, my daughter got to attend the big event, which was great. I appreciated how welcoming the staff was and I learned that it’s even more fun to go with someone else who loves modern art. My husband and usual date does not share the same passion.