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Soap Factory’s anonymous art sale offers $99 bargains this weekend

Here’s a fun fact: At its founding and for years thereafter, the Soap Factory (an artist-centered gallery space near downtown Minneapolis in what used to be the National Purity Soap Factory), was known simply as No Name Exhibitions.

In the spirit of that heritage, for the gallery’s annual fundraiser, the $99 Sale (which runs tonight and Saturday morning), original artwork is displayed and sold anonymously, each piece for $99.

The democratic-minded motivations behind this sort of fundraiser are twofold: The hope is that viewers will respond to artwork they see on a purely visceral level when names aren’t attached to the pieces; and at less than a hundred bucks, just about anyone can walk away from the sale with an original piece.

Most of the work for sale have been donated by emerging artists (from here and around the country), but there are some luminaries in the mix, too. Undoubtedly, some folks are attracted to the Soap Factory’s annual sale for its lottery-winner promise, the notion that a discerning art buyer might recognize work by a “star” in the bunch and walk away from the sale with, say, a print by famed photographer Alec Soth — and for a song.

As I scanned the list of participants, my attention certainly sharpened when I came across the names of some of my own favorites, such artists as Carolyn Swiszcz, Liz Miller, Ruben Nusz, Clive Murphy, Bethany Kalk and Suzanne Kosmalski. (See the full list of artists who donated work for this year’s $99 Sale here.)

And that’s precisely why this annual art sale is so much fun: You can rest assured there are artists in the mix whose work you’ll like, but you’re also given the opportunity to explore and evaluate what you see with fresh eyes, each piece on its own terms. And there is lots from which to choose: According to the gallery’s last count, there will be 299 works available for purchase when the sale kicks off this evening. Be warned: These are smallish pieces, 5 by 7 inches. The $99 price-tag is still a fine bargain for original art, I think; but be aware that this is modestly sized artwork.

If you think you’d like to buy something, there’s good reason to shell out money for the ticketed Friday night Pre-sale Party. “Pre-sale” is a bit of a misnomer – much of the good stuff can and will be snapped up by avid art shoppers on Friday night, so if you wait to attend the free sale Saturday morning, your choices will be limited to what remains after the early birds take their picks.

The Soap Factory’s annual $99 Sale Preview Party (with live music, food and drink) will be held from 7 to 10 p.m. today, and tickets cost $20. The Saturday morning $99 Sale is free and open to the public; doors open at 9 a.m. sharp, and the sale closes at noon. Proceeds will support the Soap Factory and its programming throughout the year.

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