When it comes to Western art auctions, Denver lacks the equivalent of a Sotheby’s or Christie’s — globally renowned auction houses that are synonymous with mainstream fine art and wealthy buyers.
But on Oct. 29, Chicago-based Hindman Auctions quietly sold enough art from Denver to break multiple world records. The sales, totaling $1.6 million, are a sign that the market for top-tier collectors remains strong, echoing recent reports from the high-end collecting world.
“The Western and Wildlife Art category has seen a considerable increase in demand as of late,” Hindman officials said in a press statement last week, noting that 93% of the 300-plus items on offer were snatched up by collectors.
“It’s exploded,” said Joe Maddalena, president of Hollywood Collectibles, in a September interview with The Denver Post. “I’ve been in this business for 36 years and lived through four of these (economic downturns). … Every time we’ve gone through one of these cycles my field has grown. People want to be surrounded by things that make them happy.”
Maddalena recently relocated to Colorado to open a new Hollywood Collectibles location in Cherry Creek, he said, citing a fertile regional market for his one-of-a-kind, antique pop-culture collectibles.
Hindman’s Western Paintings and Sculpture Auction was held at Hindman Denver’s showroom at 2737 Larimer St., but without in-person bidders (all were remotely conferenced in, according to Hindman officials).
Among the world auction records set in the sale were paintings by Fritz Scholder, Billy Schenck, Howard Post, Earl Biss, David Bradley, Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, William Berra and Beatrice Mandelman. The top lot of the sale, Fritz Scholder’s oil-on-canvas painting “Indian Messiah” (1975), sold for $187,500 — nearly 10 times more than its presale estimate of $20,000-$30,000. Multiple telephone and online bidders pushed the final result to almost 10 times the estimate, Hindman officials said.
Another auction record was set by Scholder’s contemporary and friend, artist Earl Biss. His 1986 oil on canvas, “Ritual Dance of the Moon Hunters,” netted $75,000 against a presale estimate of $15,000-$25,000.
“Scholder and Biss are most famous for their Native American imagery and the market for these artists has continued to see robust demand and increasingly exciting results,” Hindman wrote.
Billy Schenck’s “Days of August” (1986) also set an auction record for the artist, selling for $40,000. Estimated at $8,000-$12,000, the oil-on-canvas “is the embodiment of the artist’s cinematic style, using vivid bold colors to illustrate Western scenery in high contrast,” according to a press statement.
While there’s no shortage of Western art in the Rocky Mountain region, Denver continues to build its reputation as an epicenter of collection, storage and sale for it, collectors and curators have said. The annual Coors Western Art Exhibit & Sale at the National Western Stock Show, which was held most recently Jan. 11-26 at the National Western Complex, continues to be a competitive, career-making, multimillion-dollar affair.
“If you look at the price of oil and gas and you look at the stock market, that’s how our show goes,” curator Rose Fredrick told The Denver Post in 2019. “Whether you like it or not, it’s a big industry here for us, and we have a lot of great collectors who are in oil and gas.”
Despite the postponement of the 2021 National Western Stock Show to 2022, the Western Art Show will still go on, according to the event’s website. The sale returns as an online auction via the Handbid platform starting on Dec. 18 and closing at 8 a.m. on Jan. 5, 2021. A live, virtual event opens later that day (Jan. 5) and sales will continue on a first-come, first-served basis online through Jan. 24, 2021.
“The Western art market continues to flourish as more and more collectors turn their attention and resources to this category,” said Kate Hlavin, director and specialist of Western & Wildlife Art at Hindman Denver. “We are so pleased to be able to continually offer such outstanding material and we look forward to our upcoming Western Paintings & Sculpture auction in May.”
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