MELBOURNE—The demand for Aboriginal art in Australian auction salerooms appears to have cooled somewhat in recent months. Christie’s sale on Aug. 30 saw 187, or 62 percent, of 300 works sold for a total of A$1.6 million ($1.2 million). By value the auction was 42 percent sold.
Earlier in the summer Sotheby’s also saw totals and clearances decline. At the Sotheby’s Melbourne sale on July 25, the offering was 62 percent sold by value, compared with the 70-80 percent sell-through rates achieved in previous sales.
At Christie’s sale, specialist Shaun Dennison admitted “disappointment” over the failure of the top lot, a large, natural earth-pigment-on-board painting, Lundari (Barramundi Dreaming), by Rover Thomas (Joolama). Bidding, which had been estimated at A$800,000/1.2 million, reached A$750,000 before the work was bought in. Another large canvas by Thomas, Ruby Plains Massacre, was bought in at A$200,000 (estimate: A$400,000/500,000).
Despite these buy-ins, a strong continuous run of less-expensive sales at the beginning of the auction converted this into a 62 percent takeoff by volume. Dennison called it a “pleasing overall result at a well-attended auction,” with strong competition for works up to A$50,000 ($37,500).
The top price was A$60,725 ($45,544) for an untitled 1991 work by Emily Kame Kngwarreye that was teeming with subtly colored dots (estimate: A$50,000/70,000). It was followed by Dorothy Napangardi’s Salt on Mina Mina, 2001, which fell for A$56,653 or $40,989 (estimate: A$50,000/70,000); and another untitled 1991 Kngwarreye picture that realized A$46,151 or $34,613 (estimate: A$40,000/60,000).
Australian, International Paintings Fare Better
The Christie’s sale of Australian, international and contemporary paintings, including several from a private British collection, fetched A$3.7 million ($2.7 million) in Melbourne on Aug. 22. Of 364 lots on offer, 216, or 60 percent, found buyers. By value the auction was 68 percent sold.
The top lot was Frederick McCubbin’s Kensington Road, South Yarra, which brought A$333,460 ($246,760), just below the high estimate of A$280,000/350,000. The work was acquired by an Australian art consultant.
Comments Jon Dwyer, Christie’s director of paintings, Australia: “An encouraging aspect of the auction was the enthusiasm that came from all sectors of the marketplace. Many traditional and modern pictures exceeded expectations, which reinforced the ongoing strength and confidence in the Australian market for quality works of art.”
Sir Sidney Nolan’s Grass Trees was picked up by a private buyer for A$265,540 ($196,499). Five works by Nolan figured in the top ten. One of Australia’s best-known artists, he is famous for his trademark images of 19th-century Australian bushranger (outlaw) Ned Kelly in iron armor. Much of the bidding on 70 paintings and sketches by Nolan arose, however, from the estate of another artist—the printmaker Gordon House, who died last year. His works are represented in leading British collections, including that of Tate Britain in London.
“Serious interest was shown at the sale by a dozen or so bidders from Britain and Europe who had known House,” Dwyer told ARTnewsletter. Many of the works consigned from the House estate in London were inscribed as gifts to him.
Among the most expensive pieces sold was a Nolan triptych that fell to a private European buyer for A$127,522, or $94,366 (estimate: $A40,000/60,000). Another Nolan work, Head, went for A$103,233, or $76,392 (estimate: $A40,000/60,000) to Melbourne dealer Rob Gould, bidding in the room.