Buy Art First, Learn Artist Later

Famous artists go incognito at a one-of-a-kind art sale.


There seems to be a new story every week: Guy walks into garage sale, guy finds painting of a bowl of fruit, guy spends five bucks on it and later learns it is worth several grand.

If you've always wished you could be that guy, you can be, maybe, on Saturday, March 17. Nope, the setting isn't somebody's stuff-strewn front yard but the Santa Monica Museum of Art. And the paintings aren't five bucks but $350 (plus tax). And, unlike the person who is throwing the garage sale -- the unlucky person who has no idea a famous artist painted the bowl of fruit -- the people at the museum know that a lot of famous artists painted the $350 paintings.

Welcome to Incognito, which is happening in Santa Monica on Saturday, March 17.

Now in its eighth year, the fundraiser goes like this: A bunch of artists, including some very big names, have painted paintings of similar size. They have signed the backs. The museum has priced 'em all at $350. Then, on the big night, buyers rush in (read: jog or even sprint) to choose which works they'll purchase. Nope, the buyers don't get to learn who they are buying before they buy; they have to go on what the painting looks like alone.

Many of the Incognito attendees have great eyes, we're sure, for their favorite painters. But bet a lot of people are brushing up this week, the better spot a Judy Chicago or John Baldessari from across a room. (Those are two of the artists participating in the 2012 event.)

Some 500 artists will have some 650 works in the sale, so there's a lot of looking and head-scratching and choosing to be done.

Of course, the museum encourages Incognito-ers to choose paintings for the love of them; after all, you may not recognize the name on the back. Or you may buy a work by the person you've idolized your whole life. That's part of the fun, and the fundraiser.

This video from last year has suggestions on how to prepare. "Develop Your Strategy" is one step; charming.

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