A hundred dollars doesn’t go as far as it used to these days. With gas prices at record highs, you’d by lucky if a crispy new Ben Franklin got you a squinty-eyed glimpse of the Jesse James statue in St. Joseph, Mo. Of course, then you’d be stuck there, in the farthest-north region of the Show-Me Sate with no money to show and no place to go.
But at the Soap Factory this weekend, $100 promises something more than one-way travel: a chance to get artwork created by more than 220 local (and international) luminaries during its annual “$99 Sale,” an anti-art-auction auction that begins tonight for $35 and runs Saturday from 9 a.m. until noon for free. There’s only one catch: You don’t know who created the $99 work until after you’ve purchased it.
“We wanted to create something that wasn’t your typical auction,” says Debra deNoyelles, the developmental director for the Soap Factory. “Instead of reinforcing the idea and preciousness of an artist, this way people just buy what they actually like.”
Now in its third year, the concept for the Soap Factory’s annual fundraiser came about at a meeting with community and board members a few years ago. The idea, to make art accessible, at least financially, represented all things Soap, which has been a launching pad for local artists for more than two decades.
The sale, unique in all the ways the Soap and its often experimental shows are, works like this: Each artist donates a 5×7 work on paper either provided by the Soap Factory or of their own; the artwork (from photographs to paintings to metal assemblages) are pinned to the walls of the echo-y and creaky and probably still lye-encrusted former National Purity Soap Factory; the lucky purchaser of one of the inexpensive 250 works learns more about the piece after the purchase.
And if the last two years are any indication, you might want to bring your running shoes.
Different (famous) names
Since its inception in 2006, the annual “$99 Sale” has included works by locally and nationally renowned artists like photographers Alec Soth and Paul Shambroom; monochromed man about town Scott Seekins; fantasy writer Neil Gaiman; Weisman curator Diane Mullin; and screenwriter Diablo Cody. Cody has returned this year with another work, yet only once purchased will anyone know what she created and donated.
This year, deNoyelles says, approximately 70 percent of the artists are from the Midwest, a bunch are from the East Coast, and a handful are from Great Britain. “We have such a great representation of artists from the Soap Factory’s past,” she says. “It’s so great to see them return after years to still give back to the Soap Factory. They’ve launched beyond ’emerging artist’ but still come back here because it was they place they began.”
Some artists, like Elizabeth Bickford, Cathy Camper, Cody, Jan Estep, Gene Pittman and others, have been participating every year. “Along with our Halloween haunted house we do every year, it is one of our most successful fundraisers,” deNoyelles says. “People love participating in it, and the public loves it, too.”
Indeed, the $99 Sale is almost a mad rush on par with Black Friday sales—like the ones that occurred when every kid wanted to “adopt” a Cabbage Patch kid for Christmas but wouldn’t donate their old Holly Hobbie without a tear-streaked fight. People line up outside the Soap for this one. They feign patience outside the Soap’s giant metal doors, hoping for something aesthetically pleasing or inspiring, which, if we’re going to pass judgment here, is nothing like silently cursing the other folks in line waiting for a plastic doll. Right? Am I right?
“It is a mad house,” deNoyelles says. “And it gets crazier every year.”
Better get there early. And no shoving!