SMFA supports student and professional artists with annual art sale

Visitors catch a preview of the annual SMFA Art Sale at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts University, on Nov. 9. (Courtesy Anna Miller/Tufts University)

Walking through the doors of the School of the Museum of Fine Arts (SMFA) at Tufts, one felt a strong sense of community during the school’s annual art sale, which took place this year from Nov. 16 to 19.

The SMFA Art Sale, which began 35 years ago, is the largest contemporary art sale in New England, featuring nearly 3,000 works in a variety of media by almost 700 up-and-coming and world-renowned artists, according to a TuftsNow article. The artists are often seen around the gallery space and range from current students to former faculty members and other affiliated professionals. The sale allows them the opportunity to interact with visitors and customers interested in buying their works.

Former metal-working professor Yoshiko Yamamoto, who taught at the SMFA for 35 years, sold her own pieces of jewelry as part of the sale. A customer earlier in the day had looked at one of the pieces in Yamamoto’s case, but the artist hadn’t arrived at the sale yet. The potential buyer came back later and was so excited to meet the artist behind the piece of jewelry, she bought the piece and took a photo with Yamamoto while wearing the necklace.

The sale also benefits from the school’s affiliation with the Museum of Fine Arts, just steps away from the school’s main buildings. The museum gives prestige and recognition to the artists and provides a source of inspiration for current students. However, the museum can also complicate how international artists participate in the sale. According to some artists at the sale, the restrictions on transporting antiquities into the state as well as the costs of insuring pieces over international travel can deter many former SMFA students or faculty living abroad from participating.

However, these restrictions do not appear to have a major impact on the number of pieces submitted, and the sale rotates throughout the weekend to exhibit all of the works. This system also encourages people to come to the sale more than once over the weekend.

While the sale showcases artists affiliated with the SMFA, it also has several professional artists’ works for sale, put up by collectors or institutions as opposed to the actual artist.

One of these pieces is a small James Turrell printTurrell is an installation artist who focuses his work on light and how it interacts with space. The artwork was donated by Pace Prints, associated with Pace Gallery, and proceeds will be split between Turrell, Pace and the SMFA. Donations like these allow fledgling student artists to display their work among renowned names in the art world.

The art sale brings current students and experienced artists together to support their institution. Joanne Tarlin (MFA ’15), an alumna of SMFA and a volunteer at the sale, remarked that the sale is a “friendly and helpful” community, one that brings together the artist and the buyer. 

Tarlin is selling her work in the sale this year and has sold works in past sales as well. Tarlin was able to speak with and meet the buyers of one of her pieces when she was a student and said that, as a new artist, this experience was special and part of what brings her back to the sale year after year.

The SMFA’s art sale is not only an opportunity for students to sell their works, but an opportunity for the entire art community to participate in and support an institution that brings together artists of all ages and backgrounds. The sale showcases major pieces and truly demonstrates the powerful works of art and artists that the SMFA is producing and supporting.