IS ABORIGINAL ART BACK TO ITS AUCTION PEAK?

IS ABORIGINAL ART BACK TO ITS AUCTION PEAK?

Anatjari No. III Takamarra 'Women's Story' 1972. Polymer paint on board, 74 x 35.5 cms

Posted by Jeremy Eccles | 10.05.11

Dates: 06.00.00
Location: 105 Commercial Road, South Yarra, VIC 3141

“I am thrilled with the art we have put together for this auction”, asserts Crispin Gutteridge, Head of Aboriginal Art at auction house Deutscher and Hackett. “It is the finest group of works yet to be auctioned by us in the field of Aboriginal art. It includes a broad range of important works by leading indigenous artists, with the majority of works on offer fresh to the market and realistically priced”.

Other observers, however, claim that some of the prices suggested by D&H make it seem as though the GFC never happened! The 243 lots on auction have the potential to bring in $3.7m before buyers' premium. The top price estimate is just below a quarter of a million dollars for an Emily Kngwarreye Yam painting.

In fact, there are four major paintings by Emily Kame Kngwarreye on offer - none of which have previously been seen at auction. These paintings cover the breadth of her career. The Untitled 1990 is a serious early work in the red/brown of Utopia's earth, richly varied dotting failing to hide the yam roots that will provide future sustenance. A fascinating catalogue note by Janet Holt from the neighbouring Delmore Downs Station where Kngwarreye often painted, says that Emily also had in mind the story of the male Emu “shepherding his chicks not long after hatching” to feed on the yam vine and the nutritious seeds of its flowers.

There are then two paintings in the Big Yam, black and white mould – the cover lot, Alalgura (Yam) IV with the top price is in many ways a 'sketch' for the iconic National Gallery of Victoria 8 metre work. Included in the artist’s 2008 retrospective that toured in Japan and Australia, this painting displays all the authority of her later depictions of the meandering root systems of the Anoolralya yam plant.

The later Awelye 1995 is a much denser skein of roots, and is less effective; while the Untitled 1992 is a wild farrago of colours in the style that Margo Neale (who curated Kngwarreye's two major retrospectives) has dubbed her Colourist phase. Not my favourite.

It should be a good time to buy early Papunya hoards – for the NGV Origins show opening in October will certainly bring them back into public prominence. A number of works from the first two years of the Papunya painting movement are on offer at D&H. Anatjari Tjakamarra’s Women’s Story 1972 (estimate $150,000–200,000) is an exceptional work by one of the masters of the movement. Another painting of the same title, Women’s Story 1972 (estimates: $120,000–180,000) is one of the first paintings executed by master artist Mick Namarari. A later work by the same artist – Marnpi 1994 – shows just how far this master moved as an artist.

The late-lamented Jirrawun school from the East Kimberley is also well represented in the auction. There are two large-scale canvases by the great Paddy Bedford. Medicine Pocket was painted in 2000 and was one of the artist’s first excursions in style and technique beyond the dark ochre traditions established by Rover Thomas and Paddy Tjaminji. The second painting - Queensland Creek 2004 - epitomises the artist's mature style. There are also two small gouaches, which Bedford often used to experiment in form or colour.

That other Jirrawun leader, Freddie Timms is well represented; and Bedford's great friend, Rammey Ramsey has a major canvas from his most experimental period – Warlawoon Country 2005 - seen in an abstract blur of pink Kimberley dust, cloud and smoke.

Another well-represented community is Balgo, with a 1990 work by Sunfly Tjampitjin and another from the same year by his fellow exemplar, Wimmitji Tjapangarti. Then there's a colourful group of paintings from Jim Cowan's time as art co-ordinator by Eubena Nampitjin, Lucy Yukenbarri Napanangka, Tjumpo Tjapanangka, Boxer Milner and Helicopter.

Not much excitement in the barks; but a first opportunity to buy a Doreen Reid Nakamarra canvas since her sad death; a powerful Billy Thomas; a strong Ronnie Tjampitjinpa; a gorgeously confident Jackie Giles, and a really effective Ginger Riley.


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IS ABORIGINAL ART BACK TO ITS AUCTION PEAK?

Emily Kngwarreye 'Alalgura (Yam) IV (1995). Polymer paint on linen, 122 x 214 cms

IS ABORIGINAL ART BACK TO ITS AUCTION PEAK?

Billy Thomas 'Gunambalayi - Travels of the Black Snake' (2004). Earth pigments on canvas, 150 x 180 cms

 

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