This month we discussed western US art market with Duane Braaten, Senior Art Coordinator for the C.M. Russell Art Museum. Learn about this unique Montana museum, the definition of western art and who collects the genre, their upcoming benefit auction and the future of western art in our exclusive interview:
The Clarion List: What is the C.M. Russell Art Museum?
Duane Braaten: Sharing Russell’s West with excellence is the vision of the C.M. Russell Museum. Located in Great Falls, Montana, the museum’s mission is to “collect, preserve, research, interpret, and educate on the art and life of Charles M. Russell; the art and lives of his contemporaries; and the art of preceding and ensuing generations that depicts and focuses on the culture, life, and country of Russell’s West.” The Russell is a major repository of art, artifacts, and archival materials associated with Charles Marion Russell and other significant Western artists. The museum is nationally accredited by the American Alliance of Museums (AAM).
TCL: How do you define “western art”?
DB: I define western art as both historic and contemporary works depicting subjects from, or having been created in, the United States west of the Mississippi River. Many consider the genre to be strictly representational images of cowboys, wildlife, etc., but it is so much more. This much broader definition extends the term to include the seemingly limitless expressions of creativity inspired by the romance and ruggedness of the region.
TCL: Who are some of the leading artists, past and present, in this field?
DB: Of course we at C.M. Russell Museum consider Charlie Russell to be the quintessential western artist. He walked the walk. He talked the talk. His first hand experience as a Montana cowboy is reflected in the amazing accuracy and detail of his work. Beyond this, it is Russell’s unmatched ability to tell a story through an individual piece that really engages the viewer.
Today, the museum proudly identifies an elite group of contemporary western artists as those continuing the legacy of Russell. Members of the Russell Skull Society of Artists are recognized for their artistic merit and achievements as well as their support toward the mission of the C.M. Russell Museum.
TCL: Tell us about the art scene in Montana and the type of collector interested in "western art."
DB: The art scene is thriving in Montana not only in population centers like Great Falls, but in rural parts of the state as well. Each year The Russell utilizes a submission process for selecting works to be considered for inclusion. I am inspired by this annual reminder of the number of talented artists that either live in, or converge upon, our state. Many of these are professional artists while others are not, but all keep help ensure the arts remain a vibrant and integral facet of experiencing Montana.
Collectors with an eye toward western works don’t fit a certain mold. Some buy works mindful of investment potential. Others collect for more aesthetic reasons. Many collect western art because they want to surround themselves with the landscapes, wildlife, and history.
TCL: Tell us about The Russell, your auction occurring March 16-18, 2017. Why is it being held?
DB: The Russell is the premiere fundraising event for the C.M. Russell Museum in Great Falls, Montana, attracting artists collectors, and patrons from around the country. The three-day schedule of events and exhibitions culminates in a live auction featuring important pieces by Charles M. Russell and other historic artists as well as new work by the country’s most acclaimed contemporary western artists.
TCL: What do you think is the most interesting work being auctioned?
DB: Again this year, we are proud to present a number of remarkable works to our audiences. Of the numerous consignments of C.M. Russell pieces, the one that rises to the top is an 1894 oil on canvas entitled Following the Buffalo Run. Major oil paintings such as this rarely come up for auction as many are either held tightly in private collections or can be found in museums and institutions throughout the country.
Charles M. Russell, Following The Buffalo Run, 1894, oil, 23 1/8 x 35 inches
TCL: What are you most excited about at the moment in the western art market?
DB: I’m excited about the new faces I am seeing both in our artist pools and in our audiences. New artists continue to arrive, each with an individual approach to traditional western subjects. In turn, new audiences are finding that the work can be unpredictable and exciting. It is when these artists and audiences connect that the real magic happens. With The Russell event, we truly believe that if we can entice folks to join us once, they will be hooked and put our mid-March event on their calendar year after year.
For more information about C.M. Russell Museum, visit their website at cmrussell.org