Howdy partner, wanna pony up for a painting?: Eiteljorg fund-raiser expected to boost museum’s national prominence

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In September, about 30 big names in the art world will converge at the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art.

It will be the Eiteljorg’s first attempt to host a big-name Western art show featuring representational styles, those depicting natural objects realistically.

Eiteljorg officials hope the Quest for the West art show and sale bolsters its reputation as one of the nation’s elite Western art museums.

For artists, the show will provide a rare opportunity to reach collectors east of the Mississippi River.

“We wanted to showcase the very, very best in contemporary, traditional Western art,” said Eiteljorg President John Vanausdall.

Workers at the Eiteljorg already have begun to unload some of the 120 works being shipped here for the event, which runs Sept. 8 to Oct. 10.

All are new paintings or sculptures created by the 50 artists who accepted invitations to be in the show. Museum officials say the works have a combined value of $1.7 million.

The event is much larger than the Eiteljorg’s New Art of the West show, which it held every other year. The New Art show, which focuses on contemporary, non-representational art, has been on hiatus since 2002 for the planning for Quest for the West, but it will return this fall, opening immediately after Quest’s close.

Detailed planning for the Quest started more than three years ago when two museum officials and six volunteers from the Western Art Society, a group of local collectors affiliated with the Eiteljorg, gathered to decide which artists they should invite.

The Western Art Society is the show’s official sponsor. Its leader for the event, Stephen Zimmerman, said the group reviewed art from more than 400 living painters and sculptors.

Nearly everyone offered a spot accepted, Zimmerman said. Of the 50 in the show, about 30 will be attending the opening weekend events to chat with collectors, sign books or give demonstrations.

“Most of them said yes just on the strength of knowing me and knowing the museum’s reputation,” Zimmerman said. “We were able to get most of the top names that we really, really wanted.”

Payoff for artists

Painter Don Crowley, a dean of the Western art field, said he accepted the Eiteljorg’s invitation in part because his mother grew up in South Bend.

“I think she would have been proud to have me showing my work in her home state,” said Crowley, who lives and works in Tucson, Ariz. He said this will be the only show he’ll attend this year east of the Mississippi River.

“It’s always nice to find a fresh audience,” he said.

Artist George Hallmark, whose paintings often focus on Southwestern architecture, said he has to work a year ahead to produce paintings for an extra show.

But he agreed to the stop in part because of the reputations of Zimmerman and the Eiteljorg.

“Most of us have worked for 30 years to be an overnight success,” Hallmark said.

Rock Newcomb, whose paintings focus on American Indian artifacts, said that when he saw the list of other artists included, he was wowed by the “hitting power.”

“It’s a juggling act with the schedule,” said Newcomb, who attends about 20 shows annually. “But a few of the artists were idols of mine years ago.”

Other artists coming or sending works include some the Eiteljorg itself has made familiar to Indianapolis residents through its permanent collection.

For example, Kenneth Bunn, the sculptor who created the deer on the museum’s front lawn, is participating.

A higher profile

Museum officials hope the event, in addition to boosting the museum’s profile, cultivates new local collectors and raises money to add to the Eiteljorg’s collection.

The museum sometimes struggles to get credit in the Western art world because of its location.

It moved up in stature in 2001 when it honored Howard Terpning, who’s wellknown for his paintings of Indians, with its award of excellence. Artists said the museum’s recent $20 million expansion also boosted its profile.

“We have to get them here to see what we’re all about,” Vanausdall said.

Pittsburgh-based painter Robert Griffing, whose work focuses on Eastern Woodland Indians, said he’s pleased to have a large show in the area his work covers.

“I have a very small market here in the East for some odd reason,” Griffing said.

Prices for the 120 pieces in the show will range from $750 to $60,000.

Smaller, more moderately priced pieces also will be for sale, in part to lure new collectors not able to spend large sums, Zimmerman said.

“The artists are giving us fair pricing, too, because they want a new venue,” he said.

Artists will be paying their own way to the event. The museum says it will generate money through commissions on sales. It also will collect revenue from sponsorships and charges for opening-weekend events.

On opening weekend, if more than one person wants to purchase a work, the museum will decide who gets to buy it through a lottery system. After the weekend, the public will also be able to buy works in person or through the museum’s Web site.

Purchased pieces will remain on display until the show’s close. Museum officials expect show attendance will reach 13,500. They’re hoping to make Quest an annual event.

Zimmerman said he has his eye on a couple of pieces he’d like to add to his collection.

“I can’t fall in love with them too much, though, or I’ll be led to disappointment,” he said. The Indianapolis native has been collecting Western art since the 1970s.

He said he gets caught up in paintings that tell a story. He likes that Western art covers the gamut of human experience from the tragedy of the emasculation of the great Indian cultures to the rush of adventure for those exploring the West for the first time.

“The historical and the mythical west-there’s a little bit of it in all of us when you think about it,” he said.

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