Rudy Autio

"The Kiss," by Rudy Autio. The late Missoula ceramic artist's drawing fetched $12,000 at the Missoula Art Museum's 45th Benefit Art Auction over the weekend.

Rudy Autio, courtesy Missoula Art Museum

Two veteran Missoula artists drew some frenzied bidding on Saturday at the Missoula Art Museum's 45th Benefit Art Auction.

A drawing by the late Rudy Autio, "The Kiss," a large-scale cattle-marker and ink work on paper, went for $12,000. Painter George Gogas, whose work has set the high-dollar amount at previous auctions, brought in $6,000 for an entry in his Charlie Russell-Pablo Picasso series.

After a short but fast-paced bidding war, Brian Sippy was the proud owner of "The Kiss."

Sippy, the vice president of the MAM board of directors, said having one of Autio's pieces in his collection was "invaluable," particularly since the artist's family donated 100 percent to the museum. He added that he's "fired up" to own an Autio. Next on his list, of course, is a ceramic piece. 

Sippy was one of more than 400 in attendance at the UC Ballroom for the auction, the annual public fundraiser at the MAM, which dedicates its gallery space exclusively to local, regional and national contemporary art. 

The proceeds help keep admission free to the public, and also pay for guided tours for children via the Fifth-Grade Art Experience, which serves some 4,000 students each year.

The auction included 83 works between the silent and live auction portions, covering a vast range of artists from staples like Gogas to some who are finishing their master's degrees at the University of Montana.

Regardless of age or career stage, every work sold. The estimated net proceeds this year is $147,970, including $36,075 raised during a "moment of giving" in which the auctioneer solicited general donations, according to Laura Millin, the MAM's executive director. Last year, the net proceeds were $103,465, she said, including about $40,000 from the "moment of giving" dedicated to the Missoula Art Park, a collaborative project with the city and Adventure Cycling.

JillMarie Wiles of Auctions 360, the Portland, Oregon, auction house, said that "the bidding had a consistent and exuberant rhythm," and she kept the artworks moving at a steady pace.

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Autio, a celebrated ceramic artist, died in 2007 at age 80, having cultivated an international reputation from his home state of Montana. The Butte native studied under Frances Senska at Montana State University. In Helena, he and his friend and fellow ceramicist Peter Voulkos helped turn a brick factory into the Archie Bray Foundation, nonprofit ceramic arts education facility known around the country. In Missoula, he helped build the University of Montana's ceramics program and mentored countless students, many of whom are represented in the auction.

His children are artists as well: Lisa submitted a a mixed-media painting, "Five Horses," and Chris, a photographer, submitted "A Walk in the Park," an oil-colored silver gelatin print; and in March, the MAM will exhibit "Nexus," a selection of work from the Lela and Rudy Autio Family Collection. That includes works Rudy collected with his wife Lela, who was also a member of the generation who pioneered modernism in rural Montana. She passed away in early 2016 at age 88. They were active collectors during their careers, including well-known Montana artists like Peter Voulkos, down to younger artists.

Auction-goers responded to George Gogas, another veteran western Montana artist whose work has drawn high bids at prior MAM auctions.

Before the November election, Gogas painted a topical entry in his "Judith Basin Encounter" series, in which he mashes up two of his idols: the Western content and settings of Charlie Russell and the abstraction of Pablo Picasso. "When Charlie and Pablo Watched Donald Take a Tumble" envisions the two artists looking on as Trump, clearly identifiable by his blond mane, gets tossed off a bucking horse.

Gogas was treated to a standing ovation after the bidding was over. The piece, which had an estimated value of $2,000, sold for $6,000.

​A "cellar package" sold for $3,100, entitling the winner to an evening in the MAM's art vault, followed by a five-course dinner at Plonk Wine Bar around the corner.

There were a number of "lively" bidding wars on pieces in the mid-$3,000 range, Millin said.

"It's wonderful to have that many pieces in that realm."

Photographer Ellen Kuntz's large-scale black-and-white print of the Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone National Park sold for $3,300. Kaori Takamura's mixed-media painting with a typewriter motif sold for $3,400. Catherine Mallory's mixed-media piece, "Meadow," constructed of vintage linoleum, shingle, and copper wire on panel, had an estimated value of $750, but was bid up to $2,500, an impressive burst of energy for the last piece in the auction.

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