View the art in person, then bid online before and during a virtual event.
That’s the model for the 2022 Benefit Art Auction at the Missoula Art Museum.
The exhibition boasts 82 pieces, with marquee Montana artists throughout — Beth Lo, Monte Dolack, Hadley Ferguson, Stephanie Frostad and more, alongside emerging artists and new names. As in years past, it’s one of the most diverse shows they put together, said associate curator John Calsbeek.
The mediums and genres span from landscape to portraits and abstraction in painting, drawing, textile, ceramics and things you might not have heard of before — see Christine Joy’s sculpture of a stone wrapped snugly in woven grasses.
Last year, the auction was virtual and they didn’t display the work for logistical reasons, which they’ve remedied this year.
“We really felt like we wanted to do a physical exhibition this year, partly because it's a chance to honor artists and work with artists in our community,” said Brandon Reintjes, the MAM’s senior curator. While the art is viewable online, the scale and detail often doesn’t translate.
The show opens in the Carnegie Galleries, its largest space, on Friday, Jan. 7, but the MAM won’t be open late for the art walk. You can stop by during regular hours, Tuesday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
The auction itself is a virtual event on Saturday, Feb. 5. It’s typically held in-person with hundreds in attendance in the University Center Ballroom, with a boisterous, mingling atmosphere along with food and drinks and artists and supporters from around the state.
Going virtual again was “a necessity,” said Laura Millin, MAM’s executive director. This year, they’re aiming to create a “bigger, more dynamic live event” based on last year’s experience. It will be an hour long, with an actual live auction of 10 items, and more highly produced segments.
Last year, they raised $98,000 for programming, which includes year-round exhibitions of local, regional and national contemporary art. That includes the Frost Gallery, which is dedicated exclusively to Indigenous contemporary art. The museum also is admission-free, and introduces hundreds of local children to art through its Fifth-Grade Art Experience.
The show always has a community feel, so Missoula residents will see long-standing creators.
Members of the Pattee Canyon Ladies’ Salon contributed pieces — you’ll see works by Stephanie Frostad, Kristi Hager, Nancy Erickson and Leslie Van Stavern Millar.
In Hadley Ferguson’s painting, “Late Evening Sky Over Calm Waters” (acrylic on clay board), a rich sky looms over mountains and a river. Ferguson’s large-scale murals include the Montana Women’s Mural at the state Capitol.
One first-time exhibitor is Bonnie Tarses, a textile designer and weaver well-known around town for her scarves. She made an untitled mixed-media piece with dyed silk tightly bound around squares, like an abstract chessboard pattern.
Dave Thomas, an Idaho abstract painter, has a piece dominated by three impasto swoops that rise off the paper like cake frosting — an example of how the works read differently in person versus online.
Todd Forsgren donated a photograph, “Summer Tanager (Piranga rubra),” a highly detailed photo of the blushed-orange bird in a net. (According to his website, it’s part of a series in which the birds are caught in mist nets by researchers temporarily to take their weight and measurements.) An art professor and gallery director at Rocky Mountain College in Billings, he’s published his work in outlets like National Geographic, the Guardian and more.
A rare paired lot brings together pieces by artists who helped bring modernism to Montana. It comprises a stoneware bowl by Frances Senska and a serigraph by her partner, Jessie Wilbur. Senska taught at Montana State University, and counted among her students Rudy Autio and Peter Voulkos. Reintjes said their importance to art history “far outweighs” the market for their work nationally or even knowledge of them locally.
The landscape is present through many mediums. Gesine Jenzen, an MSU professor, donated a three-tint woodblock print of a forest scene at close range, with careful delineation of the trees as they recede into the distance. UM professor Steve Krutek rendered a dense woodland scene in charcoal that reminded Calsbeek of Lee Friedlander’s large-format, black-and-white forest scenes. Sheila Miles, a longtime Montana artist now based in the Southwest, contributed “The top of fall,” a classic mountain lake scene that’s informed by her long history working in abstraction.
A number of pieces were donated by the Matrix Press at the University of Montana’s School of Art and Media. The print lab and MAM have a partnership that brings visiting artists to Missoula to produce new work with the aid of UM instructors and students and then exhibit at the MAM.
A monotype by Oregon artist Lillian Pitt (Wasco, Warm Springs, Yakama) boasts imagery that will be familiar to those who saw her popular exhibition at the MAM in 2019-20, in which a mask submerged in waters looks on at passing fish. Neal Ambrose-Smith, whose exhibition “Where Are You Going?” is still on view, collaborated on a print with Matrix’s Jason Clark and James Bailey, in which each artist contributed their own distinctive imagery.
Millin said she likes to remember that the first auction was held to start the museum.
“Really, artists for the first supporters, the first patrons, the first donors to the effort through that auction and they have been doing it ever since.”
Artists donate pieces at a percentage split, so money returns to artists, too.
The auction is Saturday, Feb. 5, at 6 p.m. It’s free to watch. Go to missoulaartmuseum.org, where you can view all the items now, see key dates and find more information on how to bid.
This year, the auction features 10 items that will be up for bidding live during the virtual auction. The remaining pieces, for a total of 82, are divided into two silent auction sections that close at 8 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 5 and 5 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 6.
The live event will be an hour long, with longtime auctioneer Johanna Wells on board live from the gallery. The 10 pieces will be bid off on a tight timeline so that encourages bidding wars. They’re recording some videos in advance to make for more of a highly produced feel compared with last year.
There are two sections of silent auction pieces. From Jan. 23-27, there’s a “buy it now” option (with a premium), before the bidding opens on Jan. 28.
On auction night, the first batch of the silent auction closes at 8 p.m. and the second batch closes the following day, Feb. 6, at 5 p.m.
While the switch to virtual again wasn’t ideal, the MAM has erred on the side of caution with all of its events during the pandemic.
“We’re just really hoping to be able to restore that next year,” Millin said. “Not just the auction, but the MAM — and all of its events and functions. We’re all so terribly bereft … and desperate for human contact. And that’s what art needs. Art needs people viewing it, and viewing together and the joy of that is sorely missed. But what do we do? We proceed, we persevere.”