Think you could tell the difference between an eighth-grader’s artwork and a piece by renowned painter Ross Bleckner?
During the first-ever Springs Mystery Art Sale starting Wednesday, April 23, shoppers will get to browse more than 1,000 pieces of artwork by Springs School students and noted artists, from Eric Fischl to John Alexander to William King, and other famous names, at Ashawagh Hall.
The catch? Each piece of work will be confined to a 5-inch-by-7-inch medium and will not be labeled. Buyers won’t be told whose work they’ve bought until the reveal on Saturday, April 26.
And, more unbelievably, all artwork—from the colorful and charming kindergarten students’ work to an Eric Fischl piece, or whatever it may be—will be on sale for $20 each.
So far, roughly 300 artists—among them Connie Fox, Dan Rizzie, Peter Dayton, William Quigley, Jim Gingerich, Scott Hewett and Sydney Albertini; even actor Dan Aykroyd, who is working on a piece with painter and friend John Alexander—have signed up, but there’s room for more. The organizers of the Springs Mystery Art Sale are asking for more help from artists by Monday, April 7, when all pieces must be submitted.
The idea stems from a similar art show in London put on by the Royal College of Art. More than 1,000 postcard-sized works of art donated by artists, designers, illustrators and filmmakers go on display for about £40 each. The sale raises money each year for the RCA fine art student award fund.
In Springs, all proceeds from the five-day sale—which is replacing the Springs School’s annual “Celebration of the Arts”—will benefit the school’s Visiting Artist Program, which brings in professional artists to teach and inspire the students, as well as the art department.
“It’s a very playful show,” said organizer Nancy Rowan, who owns the Golden Eagle Art Store in East Hampton. “You could walk away with something that costs $20 but could potentially fetch quite a lot of money.” Indeed, for the buyer, it’s potentially a huge bang for the buck: For example, Mr. Fischl’s larger works have been sold at auction for seven figures, and even his small-format works regularly sell for thousands of dollars.
But, even more, it’s an important event for the students, who are working piece by piece to raise money for their art program, and will be displaying the finished works beside those of more famous artists.
Hundreds of 5-inch-by-7-inch paintings and drawings were ready for packaging this week at Springs School. The 750 participating students, who range from kindergarten to eighth grade, have been working on at least one submission each for weeks—dominated by rough portraits, abstract shapes and rolling landscapes.
Eighth-grader Alexis Dempsey, while working on a Springs landscape, said she was excited to see her work next to that of professionals. “It’s neat that our work will be in the same show next to someone who is great at drawing,” Alexis said. “And people might think our art is from somebody important.”
That’s just what makes the show special, organizer Sema Mendelman said.
“I like the idea that kids are being empowered by taking part in this event and contributing a piece of artwork that can enhance their own education,” she said. “I think the artwork is going to sell. The students are doing really amazing artwork.”
Artist Janet Jennings, who is known for her ethereal watercolor pieces, said the sale “levels the playing field” for the students and the professionals. “It will break down the whole thing of the scary, famous artist,” she said, “and give them something to aspire to.”
Two weeks ago, Ms. Jennings was still thinking of what to create for her submission and said the Mystery Art Sale would be the perfect time and place to do something completely unexpected—much in line with the sale itself.
She is not alone.
“I’m gonna wing it,” said artist Scott Hewett with a chuckle. “My painting is usually really large, so this is a different scale for me. The sale is nice, because it’s almost like Secret Santa. You get a piece of artwork that could be very, very valuable. It brings excitement to the event that’s not typical of a gallery show.”
Artist Sydney Albertini has been working with students on their pieces. Two weeks ago, she helped a kindergarten class create portraits. Each student was asked to pick a partner and draw their face, and then switch and paint patterns on the other’s piece. She said the exercise is meant to teach respect of others’ work while being fun.
She said the sale is good for local artists, too. “In a small community there are lots of artists out there that have a tendency to be hermits, like we all do,” she said. “One way to bring them together is through education. It’s always interesting, as an artist, to try and explain your thought process and the way you work to a group of people. They have this kind of genuine response to art. Their creativity and imagination has no boundaries. You learn a lot about yourself, and it’s not a huge imposition to go for a couple of hours in a year.”
Artist Ralph Carpentier, a longtime Springs resident, said the event reminds him of a sale that occurred annually at Ashawagh Hall back in the days of Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning. Drawings and paintings were hung on the walls backward so that only blank paper was visible.
“People didn’t know what they were buying, but did know that de Kooning or Pollock had given something,” Mr. Carpentier said. “People were trying to figure out what kind of paper they’d use. Sometimes they’d get the picture, take it and pay their money, turn it over, and you’d see the expression on their faces.”
The event raised a lot of money for the Springs Improvement Society back in the day, he said. Many of the Springs Mystery Art Sale artists are no strangers to philanthropy themselves, having donated their art time and time again.
“I think any kind of philanthropic effort that deals with educating kids about art is worth it. As corny as it sounds, the kids are our future,” said large-scale, bold artist Dan Rizzie. “I can’t imagine there are people who don’t consider art important. This particular method, it’s not asking too much. And wouldn’t it be great if you paid $20 and got an Eric Fischl—or even my work?”
The Springs Mystery Art Sale will open on Wednesday, April 23, at 10 a.m., and run through Sunday, April 27, at Ashawagh Hall in Springs. A reception and mystery reveal will be held on Saturday, April 26, from 4 to 8 p.m. All completed artwork must be returned by Monday, April 7, to either the Golden Eagle Art Store in East Hampton or the Springs School. Artists interested in contributing may email email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org with their mailing address in order to be sent a contributor’s packet. For more information, call 488-7770.