Luck of the Draw

With some popular artists, galleries pull buyers’ names from a hat.

Years ago Legacy Gallery planned a major exhibition. Staffers sent out catalogues and presold the show’s artworks before it ever opened. When collectors flew into Jackson from around the country, they found they were too late. Nothing was left to buy, said Brad Richardson, president of Legacy.

That’s why today the gallery sells the work of its most popular artists by draw. Painters like G. Harvey and Kyle Polzin have such strong followings, the gallery could pick up the phone and sell their work immediately, but that would leave hundreds of other collectors upset.

“If it wasn’t by draw, you’d have collectors asking, ‘Why didn’t you call me first?’ ” said Maryvonne Leshe, a managing partner with Trailside Galleries, which also sells some artists’ work this way. “It’s a matter of really being fair.”

A draw system allows anyone wanting to buy a new work to enter. The winner of the drawing has the right to purchase the painting at a fixed price. Depending on the artist and the painting’s price, there can be hundreds of names in the pool, or just several dozen.

The practice of selling by draw has been in place in the art world for years. The prestigious Prix de West sells works by draw, Leshe said. But for galleries the practice has become increasingly important because of social media.

Artists like Dustin Van Wechel share recently completed work on Facebook.

“He’d have his artwork sold before we have got a chance to get it into the gallery,” Leshe said.

A draw is exciting for collectors. It also levels the playing field. It doesn’t matter if you are an established collector or vying for your first major art purchase.

When a Harvey painting priced at $150,000 recently went into a live auction, it sold for $409,000. A $22,000 Polzin piece sold for more than $100,000, Richardson said.

“So you can imagine why there are so many names wanting to get in a drawing,” Richardson said.

Galleries encourage artists to keep their prices at a reasonable point that will survive a long career. Artists who become popular in their thirties hope to continue painting when they are eighty.

“Sometimes popularity doesn’t last so you really need to build your prices in a solid way,” Leshe said.

And draws are still used for artists whose work sells for more than $1 million.

“At that price,” Leshe said, “collectors are going to be even more upset if they don’t get the opportunity to buy the work.” .