Oak Bay gallery adds an air of mystery to weekend sale

An Oak Bay gallery is adding some extra intrigue to art by changing the way sales are made — at least temporarily.

Each of the 40 works in the Red Art Gallery’s Mystery Show is $295, 10-by-10 inches in size and unsigned. Keeping the creators’ identities secret until the pieces are sold is a way of levelling the playing field, said Bobb Hamilton, who co-owns the gallery with his wife, Marion Evamy.

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“Nobody gets an advantage because they have some very recognizable initials or signature,” Hamilton said. “You’re in a position of comparing apples and apples.”

Visitors can preview all the works through Saturday at 3 p.m. If you see something you like, you can pay $10 for a buyer’s ticket. Forty buyer’s tickets are available.

Names are drawn lottery-style at a special buyers’ event on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. If your name is called, you have one minute to place a red dot next to the artwork of your choice, indicating that it has been sold.

If the work you had your eye on has already been purchased by the time your name is drawn, there’s no obligation to buy a different one.

According to Hamilton, 32 works sold in 45 minutes at last year’s event.

“It’s kind of fun because, in the crowd, there’s a certain number of people who are obviously after a particular piece. When someone red-dots it, you hear these moans and groans,” he said.

Hamilton said the Red Art Gallery launched the event because they were getting so many artists requesting to exhibit there. The gallery only has a limited capacity for representing artists, so the Mystery Show was a way for artists — emerging, retired or otherwise — to have their work shown. The gallery’s regular exhibitors were not allowed in the show.

This year, there were 102 entries. Three anonymous jurors selected the 40 works, which represent a mix of landscape, still life, abstract and figurative styles.

An added incentive for established artists was the opportunity to try to make something different to what they are used to, Hamilton said.

“A lot of artists use it as an opportunity to try out a different style, to get out of their comfort zone,” he said. “Does it make it past the judging process? Is it purchased in the original round of the draw?”

Other artists, who might be accustomed to working on a larger scale, enjoy creating small works for a change.

Similar models of “blind” art sales have been used elsewhere — for example, at the Vancouver Island School of Art’s annual Art Incognito Fundraiser.

The Red Art Gallery is open for previews daily between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m.

“It’s a different way of allowing buyers to look at art, and it’s a different way to allow artists to exhibit together,” Hamilton said.

asmart@timescolonist.com

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