Art Museum of Missoula slings its auction onto the Web

The Art Museum of Missoula has hosted its annual throw-down, fundraiser-extraordinaire, shoulder-rubbing annual art auction for a long time-27 years, to be exact-longer than the museum itself has been open.

So this year, according to museum director Laura Millen, the venerable auction isn't taking no prisoners.

"It's a long tradition, much older than some of the other events we now compete so dearly with for attention," Millen says. "It's probably the most exciting collection of art available in the region all year, so we're trying to be a little more bullish this year, to say, hey, get out of the way."

With that in mind, the auction has taken a bold step forward by putting its 80-plus-item catalogue on the Internet for the first time. At, potential bidders can check out digital versions of all the pieces on the block. According to Millen, the move to cyberspace has eased preparations for the gala real-world event on January 23, allowing bids to be placed early and emphasizing the auction's heft in the local art world.

The work of Sheila Miles and more than 70 other local artists is on display through January 22 at the Art Museum of Missoula Upstairs Gallery for the 27th Annual Art Auction Exhibition.

The five-hour shindig at the University Center ballroom will feature fine booze and food, of course-University of Montana chef Martin Albrecht plans a Mediterranean menu-and some live performance art in a purely Missoula vein. To wit, in a rare joint appearance, both Science Woman and the Beauty Ranger will be on hand to dispense their, uh, unique brand of wisdom. Science Woman, naturally, is the Garden City's slightly wacked laboratory doyenne, a beloved test-tube jockey who sometimes emerges from her secret workshop to share the latest in high-tech discoveries. The Beauty Ranger, meanwhile, enforces the standards of hygiene and upright appearance society depends on.

"Those two, together, are really the experts on all things aesthetic," Millen says. "The Art Museum has a responsibility to educate the public, and they're really carrying the weight of that part of our mission this year." For those left unsatisfied by S-Woman's live appearance, a photo entitled Science Woman in the Piazza San Marco, Venice, Italy will be available for purchase.

Mindful of the risk of playing favorites, Millen declines to identify which of the dozens of pieces she's most enamored with. She notes with pride, however, that the Museum is very selective, even in assembling its most diverse offering of the year.

"The range is just amazing," she says. "It's so much broader even than the most wide-ranging group shows we do the rest of the year."

A tour of the website quickly confirms the selection's breadth. Many of Missoula art's usual suspects are included, but there's still plenty to surprise. County Surveyor Horace Brown contributes a whimsical depiction of a meeting between a dog and a skunk. Ernie Pepion, a Bozeman artist of Blackfeet descent, portrays the arrival of Columbus in the Americas in a pencil drawing titled There Goes the Neighborhood.

Not to be trite or anything, there's a little something for everyone.

"This auction allows for a lot of different kinds of expression," Millen says. "It's really a nice break from the more focused shows we usually do. It's a very liberal experience. We just open the doors and say, come on in."

The Art Museum of Missoula's 27th annual art auction takes place Saturday, January 23 at the University Center Ballroom on campus, 5:30 to 10:30 p.m. $30 per person in advance, $35 at the door. In the meantime, work can be perused at the Museum, 335 North Pattee, or on-line at Call 728-0447.

Open mic? At Jay's? Reminds me of a poem ...


What could be more democratic and, dare one say, empowering than a public address system conveniently provided for any old John Q. Issue who cares to share his purty poems, his powerful hankerin's, his acoustic plans to stick it to the Man? Open mic is the grassroots creative forum of the people. There's something downright voyeuristic about watching people take turns exposing their artistic innards for a handful of onlookers. Sure, it can be tedious, but it can also be as perversely revealing as watching a close friend belt out a Whitney Houston ballad on a karaoke night.

Locally, open mic nights are fewer and farther between than they used to be. Time was, nearly every coffee house and moderately hip eatery hosted an all-comers poetry reading or organic mouthfest of some sort. Mammyth Bakery, Slabs Pizza-hell, even the Riparian Pasta Outlet Formerly Known As Goldsmith's used to put a microphone out back on balmy summer evenings. I myself was usually too busy scooping ice cream to take in the proceedings, but the bits and pieces I caught on my breaks left quite an impression: Missoula's 1992 Punk Pope, Jeffy Hard, doing 15 minutes of interpretive calisthenics; former Banned drummer Dan McGuire plucking a touching acoustic version of "Nobody Knows I'm a Lesbian" with members of Pardon My Swedish, Missoula's original all-girl group. Best of all, though, was the scraggly hippie plunking away on a battered guitar and growling this petulant rhyming couplet of a chorus that has somehow stuck with me for almost ten years: "Goddamn!/the hell with it all!/I just want to get stoned/and write 'fuck' on the wall." Subtle! Evocative!

The Ritz and the Old Post still have regular open mic nights, and now a new one has appeared at a rather unlikely venue: Jay's Upstairs. Granted, the place has never exactly been a mecca for the "strong words, softly spoken" approach; four nights a week, at least, it's more like "strong words, shouted incoherently." Standard Jay's bill of fare notwithstanding, Missoula's loudest public house has, in fact, hosted poetry readings and other unscheduled offerings in the past. So far, however, the open mics have been purely musical, featuring acoustic duets and even a pickup band of Zimorino's employees. "I'm doing these open mics to give people who aren't in full-fledged bands a chance to play with other local musicians," explains Jay's den mother Robin Dent, "but we also welcome poetry, dance, spoken word-pretty much anything. You can even stand up on stage for thirty seconds with a piece of your own art." All proceeds go towards repairing and refurbishing the house sound equipment; as you might imagine, microphones at Jay's Upstairs generally have the life expectancy of legless poodles.

The first two free-form nights at Jay's have been pretty slow, Dent concedes, but she plans on making open mic night a frequent, if randomly scheduled, event. "We're going to have it on nights when there are no bands," she says, "I want to see new bands formed out of it."

Next open mic at Jay's will be Tuesday, January 19th.

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