Imagine an art sale featuring thousands of world-class pieces from hundreds of world-class artists, with no piece costing more than $1,500. Now: Why introduce? It happens every year – in your own backyard.
As every year for the past 25 years, this year’s MCAD Art Sale will take place on the weekend before Thanksgiving. The crowd begins to gather around 5:00 p.m. for the official kickoff at 6:00 p.m. Many in the seething throng of shoppers behind the velvet cords find themselves craning to discover the right painting, the right print mounted on the wall, edge to edge like in the drawing room. There are big names in it, at a bargain price. There’s the shock of the new in it, at a bargain price. Perhaps you could get a piece from the next Julie Buffalohead, who before her work was exhibited nationally and globally, was an MCAD student herself.
“MCAD prepares passionate students to become the doers, thinkers and collaborators of our community,” said Cindy Theis, vice president of institutional development at MCAD. “The sale is a chance for the community to come in and say I support you. Did you know that the Target Bullseye was created by an MCAD graduate? The bridge in the Japanese Garden at Lake Harriet? Who designed your room and catering wardrobe? Do you know Greg Hoffman, Nike’s great creative director? Did you see Lizzo at the Grammys? This is an amazing design work by Quinn Wilson [MCAD alum] creative director. In my opinion, most people in Minneapolis or St. Paul deal with something that comes from MCAD every other day and just don’t know it,” says Theis.
Buyers with assistants and apartments to decorate fly in from New York for the sale. It’s a must-see for everyone from local gallerists to Edina glam gals who take photos of the living room sofa and measurements of the empty space above to the art school students themselves.
Any student and alum who has graduated within the last five years can have 25 units on sale. If they have more work, they can fill up. This year, the art exhibition will also feature work by alumni who have graduated in the past 25 years, with a total of up to 10 pieces on display. MCAD helps students prepare for this moment by helping them learn how to price work, how to size work for sale, and how to view this as a career-building marketing and branding opportunity.
“When I was a student, I would stand by my paintings and chatter,” recalls Sarah Wieben, an abstract painter and MCAD graduate who now works from a studio in the Northrup King Building and also teaches at MCAD. “I think I was the second highest earner in a year and that made a huge difference to me and my debt. You can meet the different gallerists and designers who shop in the sale and the people I met there helped me earn a living for the future. Sometimes I want to say, “Artists are naturally generous, but we’re so often asked for donations—we’re the poorest people and we need to sell our work, not donate it!” That’s why I love art sales for MCAD students. You’ll see people at Rainbow Chinese or Black Forest, Little Tijuana afterwards celebrating, “I just sold $5,000 worth of work! Now I can eat; Now I can buy more canvas!’”
For the event, MCAD covers 20 percent of the cost of running the event and pays the rest into the scholarship fund. The artists take 80 percent home with them.
“I was teaching as a student and made half my salary that weekend,” recalls Gregory Euclide, one of 150 alumni participants who have graduated over the past 25 years invited to this year’s auction. “I heard from the framers who actually bought it: ‘Oh, this goes to the Dayton boys; that goes to Cargill’s Palm Springs property.’ It’s kind of funny, because the legend among artists in Minneapolis is if someone can spend $20,000 on art here, they’ll fly to New York or Los Angeles or whatever and buy work there. Because they think they’re buying more important or relevant art because they’re out of town. Within that dynamic, the MCAD Art Sale kind of breaks the rules because, because people think they’re getting work at a bargain price, they think they can buy it here.”
It’s a tradition with deep roots. The Minneapolis College of Art and Design was originally founded in 1886 as part of the Minneapolis Society of Fine Arts with Mia. In 1988, after more than 100 years of partnership history, the sister organizations separated, making MCAD one of only a handful of art and design schools in the country, alongside the Rhode Island School of Design and the Parsons School of Design in New York City. Today, MCAD provides many of their collaborators to the local furniture design, advertising and marketing communities – Room and Board and Target are particularly full of MCAD alumni.
“MCAD prepares the passionate students who will become the doers, thinkers and collaborators of our community.”
“[MCAD has] a multidisciplinary approach,” says Euclide, who now lives in St. Peter and whose work has appeared in galleries in Paris, New York, Los Angeles and many other cities. “You can learn to weld anywhere—but only the kind of welding I wanted an artist to do. vacuum forming. cast aluminum. acrylic puzzle. What’s unique about MCAD is that they never want you to say “I’m a painter” and ignore everything else. I teach now and I ask my students, “Okay, you’ve decided to draw a person or a flower. But why on a square of paper? Because squares fit in boxes, fit in shipping containers? What if you didn’t want a square?’ MCAD would say, “What if you made your own paper? What if the best way to say what you want about this flower is by performance, so maybe pull out a video camera? Understanding art as a force and having the skills to express it, that’s the big stuff, and that’s what makes MCAD possible.”
Last year, about 6,000 artworks inspired by MCAD’s teachings were sold in the sale, which was virtual due to the pandemic. This year’s event is a return to personal selling. The VIP opening night takes place on November 17th and costs $150, but you get first choice of the sale. The second night is the most popular with a $25 ticket, DJs and the largest crowd. On the third day, entry is free for real bargain hunters.
“Don’t forget to tell everyone how powerful it is to go in with that visual overload — an absolute ocean of artwork,” says Wieben. “It’s such a powerful moment. It always puts a big grin on my face. This is the art of today!”