After a year like 2020 it’s no surprise many of us seem to be working on reinventing ourselves.
The National Museum of Wildlife Art is. Or rather, it’s going back to its roots with its premier fundraiser, Western Visions, one of the Fall Arts Festival’s signature events.
In 2020 the museum nimbly pivoted to make the event all-virtual.
“Given conditions, it was a great decision,” museum Director of Programs and Events Michelle Dickson said. “And it was actually pretty successful. We came pretty close to our goal. Kudos to that team to put something together that still allowed for some fundraising.”
Of course nothing compares to food, drink, live music, friendly artists and a receptive crowd of admirers milling and mingling and taking in the art.
On the other hand, Western Visions had for a few years become maybe too big, with too many moving parts, like a jewelry show, a show of artists sketches and a drawing category.
This year’s 34th annual show and sale will be compact and concise, with the art of 140 artists — painters and sculptors — going on display Friday, Sept. 10 in the Changing Visions gallery.
Each artist will submit one work — paintings up to 16 by 20 inches in all the usual mediums, and sculptures no more than 18 inches in any one dimension, sizes that will allow the museum to fit all the artwork in the gallery without it being crammed on a wall, and without viewers needing to jam in together.
It also allows for a wider range of prices.
“We have five lots for under $1,000,” Dickson said, “and the median is $3,500.”
At the other end of the spectrum is a sculpture by Robert Glen, titled Two Giraffes Running, listed for $42,400.
“That satisfies our desire to make this more accessible to people,” she said.
A panel discussion with some of the participating artists is set to start at 10 a.m. Thursday, Sept. 16.
“The overarching topic is ecological conservation through art,” Dickson said. “The specific topic is ‘Conservation and Art: Going Out on a Limb,’ with the premise being the artist experience in terms of risks, rewards, obstacles, successes, all associated with using their art for conservations and what does that look like throughout time.”
And the sale and show — the main event of Western Visions — will take place 5-8 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 16.
“The overall event has been streamlined for this year,” Dickson said, although, thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, the museum is prepared to offer both live and virtual bidding, thanks to its partnership with Massachusetts tech company GraVoc which created a customized platform for the hybrid auction.
“We’re pretty sure we are the only institution” to make use of the technology in such a hybrid event, she said.
While last year’s event was a buy-it-now affair, this year it will back its original intent-to-buy format. In-person attendees and those joining on line will put their names into the digital hat to express their interest in purchasing a given work of art at the price listed. Toward the end of the evening, one name will be drawn, and that person will be able to buy the work.
“So it’s not a silent auction, not an up-bid, and other than last year it never has been buy-it-now,” Dickson said.
Food and drink will be provided by NMWA’s onsite caterer, Palatte, and live music will come from Jackson Hole’s Inland Isle.
“COVID notwithstanding, we’re hoping that there will be a good number of artists that will join us as well,” Dickson said. “It’s tough being an event planner in this climate. Not every community is doing as well as Teton County is” — and artists come from all across the continent and beyond.
Dickson called this year’s artists “a good solid crew of people,” including many who have supported the museum for years.
“Tucker Smith I think has participated in every single one,” she said. “We’re happy to have him back.”
Also Gerald Balciar, Tim Cherry, Penelope Gottleib, Ewoud De Groot, Donna Howell-Sickles, Ron Kingswood, Walter Maria, Mary Roberson, Tim Shinabarger, Theodore Waddell and dozens others.
Artists from both sides of the Tetons include Dan Burgette, Scott Christensen, Jennifer Hoffman, Dwayne Harty, Amy Ringholz, Bill Sawczuk, Kathryn Mapes Turner, September Vhay, Jim Wilcox, Carrie Wild and Kathy Wipfler.
“And we have 11 new invitees and maybe a good group that maybe spent a couple of years away,” Dickson said.
Aside from the art and artists, another end-of-the evening highlight will be the announcement of three award recipients: the Red Smith Award, chosen by the artists, the People’s Choice award, chosen by attendees, and the Trustees Purchase Award, selected by museum brass.
The museum’s biggest fundraiser of the year raises tens of thousands of dollars for operations, allowing it to hang exhibitions like “Valued Species,” a display of animal art by pop art star Andy Warhol and Chinese provocateur Ai Weiwei, which will still be on display.
The Western Visions show will remain up til Oct. 3, giving the public the chance to view the breadth of styles and talent that supports the museum year after year, and to give more time to sell any work that isn’t sold during the Fall Arts Festival.
Go to WildlifeArt.org/western-visions for more on the event and to see the complete lists of participating artists. You can also register to either attend in person, for $175 per person, or online or by proxy, for $100. ￼