Return of live auctions will help Briscoe Museum win $ 2 million


Anne Phillip’s overnight trip to San Antonio cost her $ 57,500, not including her plane ticket, accommodation or meals.

But she returned home to Scottsdale, Ariz. Happy, adding a new piece of Western art – depicting Pueblo Indians riding across rugged terrain – to her collection.

“I’m like a deer in the headlights,” said Phillips, describing the shock of getting the painting from burgeoning Western artist Mark Maggiori.

The officials of the Briscoe Western Art Museum were also delighted. They expected the painting to sell for between $ 25,000 and $ 35,000 in the museum’s first live auction in two years.


The museum raised over $ 440,000 during the March 27 fundraiser. A second auction – online, it started on March 13 and ended the night of the live event – brought the total to around $ 1 million.

Briscoe officials expect to make around $ 2 million after the conclusion of a third fixed selling event that begins Sunday and ends May 9.

The revenues will provide much-needed operating funds for the arts institution, which – like all other art museums – has been financially damaged by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Museum officials, however, will not discuss how much will be left after profit sharing with the artists.

Briscoe’s federal tax forms for its 2019 fiscal year show that after artists paid and other expenses covered for its annual auction fundraiser, the museum brought in around $ 1 million, or 35% of the revenue collected.

This year’s catch will be considerably less.

Last year, the Briscoe brought in just $ 1.1 million thanks to two hastily organized online auctions in March. Authorities canceled the live auction and closed the museum for more than two months due to COVID-19.

When it reopened, executives reduced the number of operating days of the Briscoe from seven to five and laid off about 30% of its 37 employees due to the financial problems created by the pandemic.

The Briscoe had attracted around 120,000 visitors a year before the pandemic. With one of its entrances on the River Walk, many of them were tourists.

Michael Duchemin, president and CEO of Briscoe, said the museum is gradually rebuilding attendance, but is still only 40% of its pre-pandemic figures.

The event

On Saturday evening, guests seated in the museum’s event hall and outdoor gardens were excited, with many loudly trying to outbid each other for the 30 works of art offered for auction.

“I like the live auction because it’s dangerous; you don’t know how it’s going to turn out, ”Duchemin said.

The drama attracts both bidders and non-bidders.

Western work won by Phillips started at $ 25,000, but the price quickly increased in $ 2,500 increments. Bidders quickly pushed the price up to $ 47,500.

Phillips’ winning bid was $ 50,000. She ended up paying $ 57,500 after adding the 15% buyer bonus charged by the museum.

Phillips said she was struck by the beauty of the painting. She went to San Antonio just to bid.

Phillips, 61, said she owned a dozen Western artworks. She has been collecting them since high school, when her parents gave her a painting.

“For me, it’s history – I just love it,” she said.

Phillips stood in front of his newly purchased painting, admiring it after it was put back on a museum wall. But she also realized that she wouldn’t go home with it – the “Artists’ Night” exhibit runs until May 9.

The art collector said she learned a long time ago that buying art isn’t just a bargain and resale value, although she does sometimes sell a piece from her collection.

“I have to like it before I buy it,” she said.

Hal Lenox from Reno, Nevada, said he comes to the live auction every year – except in 2020. He attends other Western art auctions in the United States, but he particularly enjoys the San Antonio event.

“People are accessible, artists are accessible,” he said. “That’s the difference.”

Lenox ended up paying $ 9,775 for a painting by artist Billy Schenck. The scene: A rodeo rider halter his horse, preparing for his ride.

Maggiori, the artist, was more than ecstatic on Saturday night. Phillips won his Indian painting Pueblo. But he had a second piece which also sold for $ 50,000 at the online auction. The second image, depicting black cowboys from Texas, was part of the artist’s efforts to pay homage to a forgotten part of Texas history.

Maggiori had donated another black cowboy painting to the museum in October.

The museum does not disclose the artists’ views, but Duchemin said the event offers more generous terms than an art gallery, which can take 50% of the purchase price or more.

“This art exhibit is getting better and better,” said Maggiori, who lives in Taos, New Mexico.

Briscoe officials limited the live auction and Saturday dinner to 323 guests, or 65% of the capacity of the West Market Street facility. The museum’s board gave the green light for the live event just weeks before it took place.

“Two weeks ago I’m not sure I can tell you that this live event was going to happen for sure,” Duchemin said.

Many guests said they were just happy to be at a social gathering.

“This is our first event since the end of 2019,” said Debbie Montford, member of the museum’s board of directors. It was good to see old friends who had also shied away from office because of the pandemic, she added.

She was joined by her husband, John T. Montford, a former state senator and former AT&T executive. He is the chairman of the board of directors of Briscoe and one of the first donors to the museum, which opened in 2013 in the historic building that previously housed the Hertzberg Circus Museum.

The Museum of Western Art is named after the late Governor Dolph Briscoe Jr. The Governor and his wife, Janey, have donated $ 4 million.

The plan for Saturday night was to broadcast the auction live. Technical difficulties delayed the start of the auction by about 10 minutes and the event started without the livestream.

The roughly 100 viewers who registered for the event online eventually joined the live auction, but only after missing the opportunity to bid on the first dozen pieces.

“Some artists were unhappy that the problem happened,” Duchemin said. They were concerned that some bidders might not be able to participate, which could lower the selling price of their art.

Duchemin, an expert in Western art who took the reins of the Briscoe in 2017, instituted the live auction in 2018.

This year’s auction was very different from that of March 2019, when the “Artists’ Night” exhibition and sale lasted two nights.

Two years ago, the live auction and dinner was on Friday evening, and the “Luck of the Draw” sale was on Saturday evening.

Art opted for fixed prices at “Luck of the Draw”, with interested buyers putting slips in a box next to the works on display. The artwork went to the person whose name was on the first leaf drawn.

The online auctions have attracted new collectors, such as a New Zealand buyer who otherwise would not have been part of the auction. Duchemin said the museum will decide whether to keep the component online next year.

The Briscoe event is unlike others on the Western Art Tour – in Jackson Hole, Wyo .; Santa Fe, New Mexico; and Scottsdale, Arizona – in that all of the artists represented at the San Antonio event are alive.

Other exhibits include works by deceased artists such as Charles M. Russell and Frederic Remington.

The work costs over $ 500,000 in some cases.

Duchemin said the spirit of the San Antonio arts event is that artists and attendees can talk to each other directly.

Next year, Duchemin hopes to return to a two-day live event.

This year’s one night event meant less mixing up for him and the other museum staff, which took a toll on the museum.

“Our goal is to build relationships with art collectors so that the $ 50,000 art sale eventually turns into a $ 1 million contribution,” said Duchemin.

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