10 May Auction Block: Climbing out of Winter
If sales and sell-through rates are any sign — and, assuredly, they are — the appreciation for Western and Native American art is deepening with time and understanding. Spring auctions and events brought sold-out crowds and hefty prices, demonstrating a demand for historic greats and contemporary visionaries of the West.
Standouts include painter Don Oelze, whose work was the favorite at two separate events, the Briscoe Western Art Museum’s Night of Artists and March in Montana, presented by Coeur d’Alene Galleries and the Coeur d’Alene Art Auction. John Nieto set a world auction record during Bonhams’ Modern Native American Art Auction. Members of both the Taos Society of Artists and Cowboy Artists of America marked significant sales at the Scottsdale Art Auction. And Masters of the American West brought noteworthy sums for such contemporary greats as Geroge Carlson and Kyle Polzin.
If spring brings such good tidings, surely summer is just a promise whose fullness is already taking shape.
Scottsdale Art Auction
April 14–15, 2023
Total: $13.8 million
During the Scottsdale Art Auction, a work by Oscar Berninghaus of the Taos Society of Artists sold for more than $1.56 million, compared to pre-sale estimates of $750,000 to $1.25 million. The Berninghaus painting of Taos Puebloans gathering in an aspen grove amid a rabbit hunt, titled The Hunters, Taos, constituted one triumph during the two-day auction in Scottsdale, Arizona, that sold nearly $14 million of art.
Another Taos Society member, Eanger Irving Couse, was in high demand. Most notably of the five works sold by the artist, Taos Love Call achieved $702,000 and Indian Boy and Brave Looking at a Blanket brought $526,500.
Works by two artists from the Cowboy Artists of America (CAA) brought bidders to a breathtaking crescendo. John Coleman’s award-winning sculpture of a trio of legendary Native Americans, Gall, Sitting Bull & Crazy Horse, climbed to $245,700 to achieve a record for the artist. The piece was expected to bring from $65,000 to $85,000. The oil Laying a Heel Trap by CAA star Bill Owen went for $76,050 to establish an auction record for the artist. Owen’s painting was estimated to bring $15,000 to $20,000.
Other notable amounts were brought by John Clymer’s Welcoming the Trade Boat for $555,750; Martin Grelle’s Meat Seeker at the Teewinot for $386,100; works by G. Harvey with Snowflakes selling for $292,500 and Breaking Cabin Fever for $257,400; and Howard Terpning’s Buffalo Runners for $269,100.
An exceptional rendering of San Francisco’s historical seascape merited excited bidding at the Scottsdale sale. Ultimately John Stobart’s San Francisco in 1849 (Vicar of Bray) Unloading in Yerba Buena Cove garnered $128,000, compared to estimates of $45,000 to $65,000.
Bonhams’ Modern Native American Art
April 5, 2023
A painting by John Nieto, Traditional Dancer II, set a world auction record during Bonhams’ Modern Native American Art sale in early April. The work brought $69,675 against estimates ranging from $20,000 to $40,000. The Native American artist was not generally a reserved man, nor was his art. Nieto’s skill in laying down thick brushstrokes and using bold colors forever singled him out as a visionary artist.
Jaune Quick to See Smith’s drawing Kalispell Series climbed above anticipated amounts of $10,000 to $15,000 to bring $44,475. A separate, untitled drawing created by the same artist in 1989 was the third top-selling work, bringing $28,050 compared to estimates of $7,000 to $10,000.
Portrait of an Indian by Fritz Scholder, arguably considered a great of modern American painting, went for $15,300, above estimates $4,000 to $6,000. And Tony Abeyta’s Solemn Winter Song brought more than three times its high estimate of $4,000, selling for $15,300.
Bonhams’ Native American & Tribal Art
March 30, 2023
Bonhams’ Native American & Tribal Art online auction featured artifacts from many of the world’s tribal cultures from North American Indigenous tribes to Africa, the South Pacific, and South-East Asia.
The best selling item was a Northwest Coast Bowl, which sold for $15,300, outdistancing expectations of $300 to $500.
The remaining four items in the auction’s top five showed a similar uptick in bidding, including two miniature Plains beaded pipe bags which brought $3,825 (estimate: $500 to $700); a large Songye Kifwebe mask for $3,570 (estimate: $500 to $700); and a Plains beaded fetish sold for $3,570.
Objects including a large Hopi polychrome katsina, a killer whale effigy, a Navajo weaving, and a New Britain tapa cloth all sold for $2,805, tying for the fifth top-selling position.
Night of Artists: Briscoe Western Art Museum
March 22–23, 2023
Total: $2 million+
Night of Artists gathered artists, art lovers, and museum admirers to San Antonio, Texas, as the Briscoe Western Art Museum’s primary fundraiser in March. The 2023 exhibit and sale marked a high point in enthusiasm, generosity, and bonhomie.
The sold-out crowd was a sign that the Western art market has many devoted supporters who desire to see it flourish. The sale of paintings, sculptures, and mixed media works of 81 contemporary Western artists brought in more than $2 million.
A painting by Don Oelze led the live auction, with Distant Smoke going for $48,875, above estimates of $20,000 to $25,000. Followed by Bruce Lawes’ Double Take, which brought more than twice its high estimate of $20,000 to sell for $46,000.
The third top-selling work was Toilers of the Trails — Buffalo Days, an oil on linen by Nicholas Coleman, which sold for $34,500, above estimates of $22,000 to $24,000.
Dustin Van Wechel’s A Violation of Personal Space rose to $23,000, compared to estimates of $13,000 to $15,000, and Serenity, a piece by Joe Kronenberg, captured the fifth slot at $20,700.
“Western art continues to flourish thanks to the talent showcased by our participating artists, and the number of new collectors and enthusiasts who attended the event illustrates the strength of the market overall and the genre itself,” says Michael Duchemin, president and CEO of the Briscoe Museum.
March in Montana
March 17–18, 2023
Total: $2.5 million+
Montana can’t help it. It’s just a great Western art state.
Proof of this was abundant during this year’s March in Montana, a two-day auction presented by Coeur d’Alene Galleries and the Coeur d’Alene Art Auction, during Western Art Week in Great Falls.
For the second time this spring, a painting by Don Oelze achieved the top price, with Wrong Move going for $42,000, compared to estimates of $20,000 to $30,000. Like his home state, Oelze can’t help it; he’s just a great Western artist.
The second top-selling item was a work by Birger Sandzén, a visionary landscape painter and art professor, with Colorado Lake achieving its high estimate of $30,000.
Works by Sydney Laurence snapped up the third and fourth places among the sale’s five top-selling pieces, with Iron Mountain bringing $26,400 and Some Old Sourdough’s Home, Anchorage AK climbing to $42,000. Each painting had been expected to achieve from $15,000 to $25,000.
A large Navajo rug from the JB Moore Crystal Trading Post achieved fifth place. It sold for $33,000, above estimates of $20,000 to $30,000. According to auction officials, the rug is thought to have been woven in 1920 and features a bright red field with many old Crystal Trading Post medallions and motifs. The textile is a beauty by any standard, and its condition more than a century later speaks eloquently of the skill of the weaver and the care of its previous owners.
Santa Fe Art Auction: Prints, Multiples + Works on Paper
March 15–16, 2023
During two sessions, the Santa Fe Art Auction’s Prints, Multiples + Works on Paper offered original prints and drawings by celebrated artists such as Paul Pletka, Fritz Scholder, and Gene Kloss.
Works by R.C. Gorman and David Hockney tied for the top-selling items during the auction. The Gorman pastel on paper, Kneeling Woman, demonstrates the Navajo artist’s facility with line and his almost preternatural talent for invoking the spirit of Native American women with just a few bold strokes. The pastel sold for $7,930, above estimates of $2,000 to $4,000.
Hockney’s French Shop also brought $7,930, amid estimates of $6,000 to $9,000. The artist-proof etching with aquatint in black and red depicts a storefront. The piece is from an edition of 500, is inscribed on the lower left, and is signed and dated in graphite on the lower right.
Arguably a stunner of the two-day, two-session sale was a small but wondrous woodcut by Gustave Baumann, An Eagle Ceremony at Tesuque Pueblo. The work sold for $7,320, compared to estimates of $800 to $1,200. The Baumann is a masterpiece of form in addition to value.
Pablo Picasso was also among the event’s top-selling artists. His lithographic print, La Danse des Banderilles, edition 32 of 50, sold for $6,710, above estimates of $3,000 to $5,000.
Tying for fourth, a 1973 work by T.C. Cannon, False Face, sold for $4,636, amid estimates of $4,000 to $6,000; and a 1933 drypoint etching, edition of 35, by Gene Kloss, The Kiva sold for the same amount, above estimates of $2,000 to $4,000.
Fritz Scholder’s 1980 lithograph The Rose sold for $4,392, above estimates of $1,500 to $2,500, to round out fifth position.
Autry Museum of the American West: Masters of the American West
February 11, 2023
The fixed-price sale of works by leading artists at the Autry Museum of the American West’s yearly art-centered extravaganza, Masters of the American West, saw George Carlson’s Mayday! achieve the highest amount at $60,000.
Carlson was in good company. The best and the brightest were represented at the event in Los Angeles. Kyle Polzin’s Relics of a Nation went for $52,000, followed by Dan Ostermiller’s Camille, a large-sized bronze bunny, which sold for $49,000.
Logan Maxwell Hagege’s oil painting Old Corral at Vermillion Cliffs sold for $42,500. The painting employs form and color to achieve a new perspective. Both the figure and the corral in the painting’s title have seen and endured weather extremes, the changes wrought by time, and the infirmities of age.
Laura Zuckerman is a senior contributing editor for Western Art & Architecture. Her work has been featured in such outlets as The New York Times Magazine and Cowboys & Indians.