Sold! … on Reno
Coeur d’Alene Art Auction
“But I don’t have on my cowboy hat and bola tie,” Peter Stremmel jokes, when asked for a photo.
The co-organizer of Reno’s annual Coeur d’Alene Art Auction is dressed, as usual, in a casually professional summer shirt and well-pressed khakis. There’s nothing cowboy about him. And there’s nothing cowboy about the glass-top desk and flat-screen television in his airy, modern office at the Stremmel Gallery. His auction, on the other hand, is all about the West. The event draws art collectors and dealers to Reno each year where they bid eagerly on paintings, mostly Western landscapes dating back to about 1850.
As the name suggests, the auction hasn’t always been in Reno. It began 19 years ago as the National Finals Art Auction in Las Vegas.
“We thought, well, if the National Finals Rodeo is in Las Vegas—that’s the granddaddy of all rodeos—in theory, everyone that’s interested in the West will be there, so what a great place to have a Western art auction,” Stremmel explains.
The rodeo connection wasn’t all it was cracked up to be, though. After a few years, Stremmel and his business partners—gallery owners Stuart Johnson of Tucson and Bob Drummond of Hayden, Idaho—moved the auction to the resort- filled Sun Valley, Idaho. After another few years, they moved north to Coeur d’Alene. Eight years later, the auction had outgrown that town, and the partners decided on Reno. The auction’s name had gained enough recognition among collectors that instead of re-coining it the Reno Art Auction, they left it the Coeur d’Alene Art Auction.
Stremmel concedes that Reno may seem like an unlikely place to hold the country’s largest Western art auction. The irony of a big sale in a small city is not lost on writers from Artnews magazine or the Wall Street Journal.
“Every article starts out with ‘the unlikely location of Reno,'” Stremmel says. But, relocating to Reno wasn’t such a strange move. First off, it’s convenient. Stremmel owns a warehouse in town. Receiving, storing and shipping artwork is a lot easier now that it’s done closer to home. Second, anyone who can shell out between $10,000 and $5 million for artwork can hop a plane. (Or, for buyers who can’t, the auction offers bidding by telephone.) Plus, collectors are a savvy bunch who know where to go to find what they’re looking for.
“If you’ve got great paintings, they’ll find you under a rock,” Stremmel says.
In true Reno form, Stremmel and partners have been operating on the build-it-and-they-will-come theory, and it’s been working. In their sixth year in Reno, the event’s organizers have set record prices for almost every artist whose work they’ve sold.
But, in the unpredictable world of art collecting, there are a few things even these experts haven’t gotten down yet.
“Each year, we always do a little bet,” says Stremmel, “which piece will sell for the most, which piece will not sell, period … what the gross is going to be and all that. I’m the auctioneer, and I always miss … every single one by a mile.”