A preview of this year’s important auctions
This story was featured in the January 2013 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Order the Southwest Art January 2013 print edition, or download the Southwest Art January 2013 issue now…Or just subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss an issue!
Every year Charla and Bob Nelson, owners of Manitou Galleries in Cheyenne, WY, and Santa Fe, NM, travel to Great Falls, MT, for March in Montana, an art auction they present to about 250 avid collectors. The event features sporting, wildlife, and western paintings as well as cowboy and Indian collectibles. In the months leading up to the event, the Nelsons gather artworks at their Cheyenne gallery. Then, in early March, they load up a van, trailer, and U-Haul truck with their treasures and head northwest. “We look like something out of The Grapes of Wrath,” Charla Nelson jokes.
March in Montana, founded in 1987, is one of a number of increasingly popular art auctions across the country. The events are racking up record sales for deceased and living artists. Gallery owner Jack Morris, a partner in both the Scottsdale Art Auction and the Charleston Art Auction, offers several reasons for their popularity. For starters, galleries don’t always want to take back works for resale. Auctions can offer collectors one of the only venues to sell their artworks. Meanwhile, Morris says auctions are popular among art buyers because the fast-paced sales are entertaining. “Many collectors enjoy the competition for exceptional pieces as much as they enjoy the hunt,” he says.
Charla Nelson agrees, adding that collectors also seem to experience a certain comfort level at auctions. “In an auction, you have a support system. If you have one bidder under you, you know there’s value in going one more step up in price,” she says. “The support system under you says it’s worth what you are paying for it.”
This year March in Montana takes place March 15-16, and as usual, collectors can expect to see about 600 artworks on the auction block at the TownHouse Inn. Two of the highlights of the 2013 auction are a painting, POINTING THE BEEF HERD, CATTLE TRAIL SERIES by John Norval Marchand, estimated to sell for $20,000 to $30,000, and a bronze, HORN-ADAY BUFFALO GROUP by Robert Macfie Scriver, estimated at $15,000 to $25,000.
While March in Montana attracts bidders from Canada, the Pacific Northwest, and the Rocky Mountains, the Nelsons also present Auction in Santa Fe, an event that attracts collectors from Texas, Colorado, Arizona, and California. The 2012 auction totaled $1.2 million. The auction traditionally focuses on southwestern art and Native American basketry, weavings, and pottery, and this year it takes place August 10-11 at the Hilton Santa Fe Historic Plaza.
Galleries often team up to work in partnerships to present auctions. Since 2007 the Nelsons have joined forces with Idahoan Mike Overby and art dealers Stuart Johnson, owner of Settlers West Galleries in Tucson, AZ, and Peter Stremmel, owner of Stremmel Gallery in Reno, NV, to host March in Montana. Overby, Johnson, and Stremmel are also the forces behind the annual Coeur d’Alene Art Auction, which features western, wildlife, and sporting art as well as works by contemporary and past master artists. It rang up whopping sales totaling $17.9 million last summer. “With a 93 percent sales rate, that was the highest of any western art auction in 2012,” Overby says.
Generally about 300 works are on the auction block, and among last year’s top lots were two paintings: Albert Bierstadt’s SUNSET OVER PLAINS, which sold for $514,800, and Frank Tenney Johnson’s COWBOYS ROPING THE BEAR, which sold for $921,000. Overby is enthusiastic about the 2013 auction, which takes place on July 27. The 27th annual event is moving to a new venue in Reno, the Peppermill Reno Hotel Casino. “We are excited about the move,” he says. “The hotel is more upscale with more amenities. It will be exciting for our collectors who are flying in from all over.”
Another trio of gallery partners hosts the annual Scottsdale Art Auction, which takes place on April 6 this year. The event was established in 2005 by J.N. Bartfield Galleries of New York, Morris & Whiteside Galleries of Hilton Head, and Scottsdale’s Legacy Gallery, where the auction is held. More than 300 paintings and sculptures are usually up for bid. Last year’s sales totaled $16.7 million and featured top lots such as Howard Terpning’s MYSTIC POWER OF THE WAR SHIELD, which sold for $1,710,000. “The Scottsdale Art Auction has become a leader in deceased western American masters such as Russell, Remington, Johnson, and Dixon, as well as the Taos founders, the National Academy of Art artists, and the Cowboy Artists of America,” says Jack Morris.
The fall season brings even more choices for art lovers, including auctions in scenic destinations such as Jackson Hole, Santa Fe, and Charleston. The September Jackson Hole Art Auction, founded in 2007 and presented by Trailside Galleries in partnership with Gerald Peters Gallery, takes place at Jackson Hole’s Center for the Arts. About 250 to 300 paintings, sculptures, and etchings by about 100 deceased and contemporary artists regularly grace the auction block. And every year about 30 artists represented by Trailside Galleries contribute a new painting to the event. Sales at the 2012 auction totaled $7.7 million and included top lots such as JOHN ERMINE, 1903, a painting by Frederic Remington that sold for $690,000. This year’s auction takes place on September 14.
In October, collectors who live east of the Mississippi River head for the coastal city of Charleston, SC, where the annual Charleston Art Auction unfolds. The event, which regularly features about 120 artworks, is presented by the Charleston Art Auction in association with Morris & Whiteside Galleries and Charleston’s Sylvan Gallery. The auction celebrates its eighth anniversary this year with expanded offerings by artists of the Charleston Renaissance and contemporary American artists. Last year’s sales totaled $700,000. “There are many opportunities in the West like the Coeur d’Alene, Scottsdale, and Jackson auctions,” Morris says. “We are trying to create the same credible venue in the Southeast.”
Meanwhile in the Southwest, November is the month for the annual Santa Fe Art Auctionpresented in association with Gerald Peters Gallery and held at the Santa Fe Convention Center. Founded in 1994, it usually features more than 200 paintings and sculptures on the auction block, including works by both deceased and contemporary artists. Sales totals range from $2 million to $4 million, according to Peter Riess, the auction’s vice president and executive director. Highlights of the 2012 auction included Howard Terpning’s ADVANCE OF THE LONG KNIVES, estimated to sell for $800,000 to $1 million, and Clark Hulings’ FRIDAY MORNING MARKET AT BONNIEUX, estimated to sell for $188,000 to $250,000.
Heritage Auctions, with locations in Dallas, New York, and Beverly Hills, is the largest auction house founded in the United States. Established in 1976, it boasts sales of nearly $849 million since its doors opened. Its success, in part, has been fueled by the expansion of three auctions: American Indian Art, Texas Art, and Western and California Art. Each event is held twice a year. This year’s spring auctions unfold on May 4, and the fall dates are yet to be scheduled. The Western and California auction, held in November, boasted sales totaling $9.3 million with top lots that included Howard Terpning’s PLUNDER FROM SONORA, 1982, at $962,500 and Albert Bierstadt’s MOUNT BREWER FROM KING’S RIVER CANYON, CALIFORNIA, 1872 at $602,500.
Another major auction house, Bonhams, hosts three auctions annually in Los Angeles titled California and Western Paintings and Sculptures. Founded in 1793, the company has a worldwide network of offices and regional representatives in 25 countries. This year’s spring auction unfolds on April 30. The other two auctions in the summer and fall have not yet been scheduled.
The trio of auctions offers a wide array of important California Impressionist works, western scenes, landscapes, and cityscapes. Last year the big news at the May auction was that a Henry Farny painting titled SOUTHERN PLAINS INDIAN WARRIOR, estimated to sell for between $100,000 and $150,000, went for $362,500. “The consignors walked into our monthly Appraisal Day in early 2012 with what they thought was a print of a great painting,” says Scot Levitt, vice president and head of the fine-arts department. “I had the pleasure of sharing the news with them that their newly discovered item was not a print but a painting worth six figures.” —Bonnie Gangelhoff
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