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International Buyers Boost Sotheby’s Aboriginal Art Auction

Despite a rise in the value of the Australian dollar, the top three lots in Soth­eby’s Australia’s sale of Aboriginal and Oceanic art in Melbourne on Nov. 24 went to overseas buyers.

MELBOURNE—Despite a rise in the value of the Australian dollar, the top three lots in Soth­eby’s Australia’s sale of Aboriginal and Oceanic art in Melbourne on Nov. 24 went to overseas buyers. The auction represented one of very few opportunities overseas buyers have to acquire such material. The sale took in A$2.1 million ($1.9 million) against an estimate of A$2.45 million/3.6 million, and was 68 percent sold by lot, 69 percent by value. This was in keeping with previous end-of-year sales, where volume tends to fall below that of the major summer auctions of Aboriginal art.

The top lot, Johnny Warangkula Tjupurrula’s Water and Tucker, 1972, was painted at Papunya Tula, in the Northern Territory, where the groundbreaking movement of contemporary Aboriginal art began. It sold for A$150,000 ($138,190) on an estimate of A$150,000/199,000. The work came from a collection put together by adviser Barbara Flynn for the Sydney-based Austcorp Group, which has been subject to a financial restructuring plan and whose artworks made up the bulk of the sale.

The second-highest lot was an untitled charcoal on paper, late 19th century, by William Barak (ca. 1824–93), the best-known of a group of Ab­original artists who recorded colonial Australian life. Consigned from a Paris collection, it brought A$144,000 ($132,660) on a A$60,000/80,000 estimate. The third-highest lot, What Happens to a Man After He Dies on Groote Eylandt, 1957, by Thomas Nanjiwarra Amagula (1924–89), was from the U.S. collection of William McE. Miller Jr. It sold for A$132,000 ($121,600) on an estimate of A$70,000/100,000.

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