The annual Buffalo Bill Art Show & Sale is a raucous evening for Western art lovers — especially if you happen to be sitting at the table of an artist whose work sets off a bidding war.
Western oil artist Michael Ome Untiedt compared the feeling of awaiting the auctioneer to lead bidding on his work to the nervous butterflies in the stomach of a batter in the on-deck circle.
“I’ve done this hundreds of times, but I’m still nervous,” he said.
We were sitting together at last year’s Buffalo Bill Art Show & Sale, part of the annual Rendezvous Royale Week in Cody, Wyoming. The auction benefits the Buffalo Bill Center of the West — which is hands-down the most interesting museum I have ever been to, and that includes the Smithsonian Institute — and the Cody Country Chamber of Commerce.
Untiedt’s painting, There Are Always Those Who Won’t Hoe Corn, was Lot 69 of 108 to be auctioned live, along with more for sale in the silent auction and to be sold at the next morning’s quick-draw. The title was inspired by the Alison Krauss song “The Boy Who Wouldn’t Hoe Corn.” It depicts three riders, two of them men and one a woman, in a cloud of dust. One man is struggling against whatever is out of frame on the other end of his taut-stretched rope while the woman is about to throw her own. The third has either just fallen or is just getting up, his horse and hat each upside down on the ground.
“Everything I paint is sort of allegorical,” he said. This one was about the different pathways people go down in life as a result of the life choices they make, he explained.
The crowd seemed to get more and more raucous with each new item. Maybe it was the drinks included with the prime rib dinner, but I found myself more and more wrapped up in the drama of each sale and was tempted to make bids on pieces I couldn’t possibly afford. Mark Kelso’s Lot 67, a beautiful and realistic oil painting of bison grazing on the grass that pokes up from the snow among steaming fumaroles titled The Yellowstone Experience, was especially tempting. It also had a particularly exciting sale that quickly dashed any hope of making a bid, eventually reaching $17,000, the highest sale yet.
Finally, one of the auctioneer’s helper’s picked up Untiedt’s painting and walked it along the elevated stage, showing it to all sides of the room. The bidding was hectic. Throughout the crying of Lot 69, Untiedt was clearly pumped, smiling widely and pounding the table as the numbers climbed higher and higher, reaching five digits and then past $20,000, easily surpassing any previous item until Buyer 11’s bid of $30,000. Untiedt grinned as a friend came over to hug and congratulate him.
“I know artists shouldn’t, but every artist judges their value by what their work brings at auction,” he said. “You shouldn’t, but we all do, so it’s like putting a value statement about yourself up on stage.”
By that measure, Untiedt was the most valuable artist of the night. The $30,000 price his painting fetched was the auction’s highest.
This year’s Rendezvous Royale is September 17–22. Find out more at rendezvousroyale.org.