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Buyers Vie for Abstract Art at Sydney Sale of Burge Trove

Christie’s sale of abstract art from the collection of the late corporate lawyer William Burge drew crowds and intense competition at a 193-lot sale in Sydney on March 6. Estimated to realize A$2.5/4 million ($1.8/2.9 million), the sale grossed A$5.3 million ($3.9 million), with only four minor lots left unsold. It was 97.9 percent sold

SYDNEY—Christie’s sale of abstract art from the collection of the late corporate lawyer William Burge drew crowds and intense competition at a 193-lot sale in Sydney on March 6. Estimated to realize A$2.5/4 million ($1.8/2.9 million), the sale grossed A$5.3 million ($3.9 million), with only four minor lots left unsold. It was 97.9 percent sold by value and 99.5 percent by lot.

The offering was strong in works by the Sydney abstract color-field artists of the 1960s and ’70s; and in sculpture, made mainly from found pieces of metal, by Robert Klippel (1920-2001), who is regarded as a pioneer in Australian sculpture.

The paintings of these two decades seldom appear on the market in either Sydney or Melbourne. Most pieces in the collection had been off the market since their acquisition, relatively fresh, from the artists’ studios. Burge, who died in 1998 at age 63, had befriended some of the artists and was well-respected as a collector.

Buyers filled Christie’s new rooms in an Art Deco building, formerly used as a post office, in the suburb of Edgecliff. Major collectors such as John Kaldor, who funded the 1995 installation of Jeff Koons’ Puppy at Sydney’s Circular Quay outside the Museum of Contemporary Art, were in the room and bidding. Kaldor bought Bridget Riley’s Study ’72 Final Scale (Red Crossing Blue and Green)… for A$33,460, or $24,430 (estimate: A$8,000/12,000).

The Art Gallery of New South Wales, where Klippel had a retrospective in 2002, paid A$306,200 ($223,526) for his 1972-74 Opus 300, a 123- centimeters-tall (4-foot-tall) construction of brazed and welded steel.

Burge had acquired the work at a Christie’s Sydney auction in August 1998 for A$40,250 ($23,747). The gallery’s final price, including premium and Australian GST (Goods and Services Tax), was A$336,820 ($245,878), way more than double the A$90,000 high estimate. The previous record for a Klippel was A$92,150 ($48,800), given for The Sentinel at Sotheby’s in August 2002.

Klippel’s Opus 361 (estimate:A$250,000/350,000) broke the record a little later when it fetched a final price of A$558,580 ($407,760) via phone. This work, comprising 18 miniature constructions, was acquired by Burge from Sydney’s Watters Gallery in 1979, when it was priced at A$18,000.

Among other record prices was the A$336,820 ($245,880) paid for the largely abstract Water’s Edge #2, 1959, by John Passmore (1904-84). The work had been in Burge’s collection since it was knocked down to A$3,200 by Christie’s at a Sydney sale in October 1972.

Melbourne dealer Charles Nodrum, who bought a dozen lots at the Burge sale and was an underbidder on the Passmore piece, told ARTnewsletter buyers realized that the work had been off the market for 34 years, that nothing like it had come on the market in the intervening period, and that it was unlikely more works of that quality would be forthcoming.

The £11,000 Burge spent to secure Lucio Fontana’s Concetto Spaziale, 1961 at Sotheby’s July 2 1973 sale appeared to prove the point when it brought A$675,800, or $493,330 (before GST), to Melbourne dealer Peter Gant.

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