Mystery surrounds artwork at Upstairs’ 100 X 100 event tonight

Published 8:00 pm Friday, December 11, 2015

FEATURE Cover 12.13

By Mark Schermling



For Upstairs Artspace Executive Director Tom Madison, the gallery’s annual 100 X 100 event, to be held today, is one of his favorite things all year. It’s held Saturday, Dec. 12 and doors open at 5 p.m.; no one will be admitted earlier.


For the general public, especially art fanciers, it’s an opportunity to purchase collectable original works of art at a very modest price. For the gallery, the show provides a financial shot in the arm, as artists donate the pieces, while sales go toward ongoing gallery expenses.


“It’s been hugely popular,” Madison observed, with some enthusiasts calling months ahead, just to learn of the exhibit’s opening.


The event, so named because it features some 100 pieces of original art, selling for $100 each, is the brainchild of former Upstairs Artspace board member Kimberly Ward. Ward was involved with a similar event in Spartanburg.


Each piece is 12 by 12 inches. Artists can submit prints, photographs, paintings or other visual art in that size. Upstairs Artspace provides a 12 by 12-inch canvas, which artists can, but are not required to, incorporate. Artists, some well known, hail from as far away as Atlanta.


This is the third year for the 100 X 100. It’s the second year for the 50 X 50, consisting of about 50, 10 by 10-inch works which are $50 each, made by students from six local schools — Polk County High School and Middle School, Landrum High School, South Carolina Governor’s School, Greenville (SC) Fine Art Center and Immaculata Catholic School (Hendersonville).


The 100 X 100 pieces will be on display on street level, with the 50 X 50 works downstairs.



Unlike exhibits that present works of art with the artist’s name, the 100 X 100 introduces a bit of suspense. The works are presented anonymously, and marked with simply a number. Starting at 5 p.m., potential buyers mark the number of their top four selections (in case their favorite is already sold) on a piece of paper, then take the notes to a desk in a previously-undisclosed location. There, they receive a ticket for their favorite piece, or another piece of their choice, and pay for it at the sales desk.


“No one knows where the ticket desk is going to be,” Madison said. To insure that no one can associate a particular piece with a particular artist, “everybody is sworn to secrecy about who did what.”


“That ticket is your claim to obtain that art work,” Madison noted. When the buyer presents his or her ticket, a “runner” hurries to the corresponding piece of art and marks the number with an “X,” indicating it is no longer available.


“When you see a green ‘X’, it (that particular piece) is gone,” Madison added.


“There’s no auction,” he added. “It evens the playing field for everybody.”


This year’s 100 X 100 is managed by gallery intern Caren Stansell, a student at Converse College in Spartanburg. Stansell, a print-making and sculpture major, is using this exhibit as her project for credit at Converse. Each art student there must complete a project. This represents a new program at the college.


According to Madison, artists have used the shield of anonymity to alter their typical presentation, and help disguise their identity.


Saturday evening’s schedule is as follows:


Viewers will preview the works from 5 to 6 p.m. Sales of the 100 X100 begin at 6, with 50 X 50 sales beginning at 7. The gallery will be open until 8 p.m. Proceeds from the 50 X 50 mostly benefit art programs at the respective school, with a small portion going to Upstairs Artspace.


Pieces will be on exhibit through Friday, Dec. 18. On Dec. 18, artists’ names will be displayed next to their work. All work sold and unsold will remain on display through Dec. 18. Exhibit closing is from 5-7:30 on Dec. 18. Madison reported that at least half the pieces are usually sold in the first half hour, or by 6:30 of the opening evening.


Madison and other gallery staff members are thankful for the donations that make up the exhibit.


“This is only possible,” Madison said, “by the generosity of the artists who donate it to us.”


Add creativity to that description.


“You give people that one parameter, 12 by 12 inches . . . it’s amazing the variety that artists think of,” Madison said admiringly. Regardless of the final creation, “it just has to be 12 by 12 inches and hang on the wall.”


Madison noted that the first 100 X 100 event was held early in the fall. He noticed that individuals were purchasing the pieces as Christmas gifts. One gentleman purchased eight pieces, noting that two were for himself, while he was presenting six as gifts.


“That’s when the light bulb went off” he said about the idea to hold the event closer to the holiday season.


In spite of art lovers rushing to see what’s available, and rushing more to purchase their favorite pieces, Madison chuckled and assured, “So far, there’s been no blood shed, and no fist fights.” Indeed, he’s observed that if someone finds that a favored piece has already been sold, he or she will pursue other pieces.


“I always love this show,” Madison announced.


Upstairs Artspace is located at 49 S. Trade St., Tryon. Call 828-859-2828 or visit for additional information.