Landscapes and abstractions, functional ceramics, or even contemporary sculptures assembled from pieces of palm trees. Artists from Montana or living here now, work in a myriad of styles, all of which you can view in the Missoula Art Museum Benefit Art Auction exhibition.
The donating artists include established figures like Stephanie Frostad —a politically tinged, intricate rendering scene of a woman clad in a striped dress clutching a red brush ("Paint the Town") — alongside names less familiar in Missoula, such as Brian Maly of Helena, whose rendering of silos has blocks of eye-popping color.
The 47th annual auction is the biggest fundraiser of the year for the museum. The proceeds help keep the admission free, and pay for programs such as the Fifth Grade Art Experience, which brings thousands of schoolchildren to the MAM each year for tours and hands-on projects.
The exhibition was culled from more than 240 submissions by a jury of MAM staff and supporters. This year, they've picked more pieces for the silent auction, at 48, than the live portion, at 32.
They aim to make the live section more "concise and competitive," according to associate curator John Calsbeek. They'd like the live part of the auction to move more smoothly and quickly, while shifting work to its silent section, which has been successful in recent years. He added that there is sometimes a perceived stigma against silent auction pieces, but the MAM picks works for quality overall and then decides how to divide them.
The silent auction features a number of paintings valued at $1,000 or higher, including ones by popular, veteran artists like Sheila Miles (sunflowers against a sunset), and Kathleen Herlihy-Paoli (a skyscape with drawn curtains) and R. David Wilson (a street scene). A second silent auction section, with bids starting in lower range, will close 15 minutes after the live auction, aiming for a 9 p.m. finish. The auctioneer this year is Johanna Wells, returning from last year.
In the past year, the MAM hosted several exhibitions with large-scale works, smaller versions of which are in the auction. Cathy Weber of Dillon filled a split-level gallery from floor to ceiling with tree trunks and ceramic birds for "Understory/Overstory." She's donated a work made with similar materials in a size that's more friendly to non-museum displays with "Bird House." It measures about 6 feet tall, 4.8 feet wide and only a few feet deep.
For last year's auction, Weber donated a similar piece that fed into "Understory." This year's piece is an experiment for ways to adapt the exhibition for the larger space at the Holter Museum in Helena.
"I like that she uses the auction as a way to test out ideas and theories," said senior curator Brandon Reintjes.
Sculptor Phoebe Knapp of Billings took over the Missoula Art Park in 2018 with her large abstract pieces, which were either made of wood or cast bronze from molds of elm.
She donated a piece, "Little Untitled," that's a little over a foot tall. In comparison, "Tablet," made of two slabs of walnut, stood 12 feet tall outside the entrance to the MAM.
Artists featured in the MAM's Frost Gallery, dedicated to indigenous contemporary art, donated works. Wendy Red Star based her print, "The Maniacs," on a show poster for her uncle's 1960s Crow rock band. She led a group exhibition, "Our Side," in 2017-18, with three other indigenous women artists.
Duane Slick (Meskwaki), an instructor at the Rhode Island School of Design, donated "Yellow Line (Lead by Example)" He was part of the "The Shape of Things: New Approaches to Indigenous Abstraction," a group print exhibition between the MAM and Matrix Press at the University of Montana.
His auction piece employs one of his signatures, a silhouette of a coyote mask. While the MAM exhibition focused on prints, this one is a painting, with thickly applied layers of acrylic.
Another participant in that show, Sara Siestreem, contributed a large piece. "Prince, Straight to Heaven," is a mixed-media work on paper, measuring 70-by-45 inches. The piece uses her language of circles and large marks while paying tribute to the late pop/R&B icon with his preferred color, purple. Molly Murphy Adams, who was born in Great Falls and grew up in Missoula, contributed "Red Earth, Blue Sky," a basket with intricate beadwork, including two swallowtails on the exterior.
At least one auction piece alludes to a future exhibition. MAM visitors will remember John Buck for his massive wooden sculptures, with moving parts, that filled the largest gallery in 2015. He's one of four who made new work for "In Praise of Folly: Five Artists After Guston." They were asked to respond to the pioneering abstract sculptor Philip Guston, whose painting, "Cigar," was on loan at the MAM last year. His auction submission "Laocoön" is a woodblock rubbing in crayon based on one of his sculptures, "The March of Folly," a large piece that was shown in Denver recently.
Jeremy Hatch's "Trophy" is quite literally part of a former MAM exhibition. In 2017, the MAM lobby held a sculpture of his that appeared to be a pleasingly chaotic pile of white bicycle parts. They were bicycle parts, in a way, that he'd molded and cast in porcelain. For "Trophy," he took three pieces: a seat and two handlebars, to make a bull-like shape that references Picasso.
Gordon McConnell of Billings donated a painting pulling from Western movie imagery: "God Made Horses to Run, and Cowboys to Ride." His work is the subject of a traveling show through the Montana Art Gallery Directors' Association that will come through Missoula in the future, providing a re-introduction to him for audiences on this side of Montana.
"You have to gradually re-expose audiences to the artists that make this such a great state for contemporary art," Reintjes said.
Some Missoula mainstays are present as well. Painter George Gogas continues his "Judith Basin Encounter" series, in which he mashes up two of his influences: the Western narratives of Charles Russell and the European cubism of Pablo Picasso. The latest entry, "When Charlie and Pablo Knew Donald Would Never Be a Hand," is the third year in a row in which Trump figures in the story. Monte Dolack, who was just honored with Governor's Arts Award, donated a painting that sets aside his more lighthearted side for environmental commentary: a scene of the Missouri River against the Great Falls industrial skyline.
Paul Guillemette, who studied at the University of Montana and now works out of Los Angeles, hand-delivered a piece that might have been too delicate to ship.
"He's taken natural materials and recombined them in the most incredible, sculptural way," Reintjes said.
He constructed "Leviathan" from a 5-foot-long palm tree inflorescence. He reassembled them and covered the surface with little pods, making it appear alien and new.