Aboriginal art auction framing a resurgent market

Aboriginal Art Directory | 22.07.09

Author: Gabriella Coslovich
News source: The Age

Gabriella Coslovich
July 21, 2009
FOR a glimmering moment, it seemed as if the boom times were back.

People burst into applause when a prized drawing by the late William Barak sold for almost three times its lower estimate at Sotheby’s Aboriginal art auction last night.

The Barak drawing, Corroboree, created in 1895, sold for $504,000 (including commissions), almost six times higher than the previous auction record for the artist’s work. When the hammer fell, observers clapped vigorously — perhaps in relief that the art market was finally showing signs of recovery.

There was cause for hope that the darkest days of the art market were over. Sotheby’s first Aboriginal art auction for the year drew a respectable result, with 63.4 per cent of works selling, and 70 per cent by value — far higher than the dismal results of last October, when almost two thirds of the works on offer failed to sell.

Last week, Sotheby’s Aboriginal art specialist, Tim Klingender, predicted that the worst was over — and last night’s auction results seemed to confirm his forecast.

“The Barak was obviously the star, I didn’t expect it to go for anything like that,” he said after the auction.

“It’s a major turnaround from our last sale. We’re certainly not back to the high point of mid-2007, but I think it’s very clear that the market has turned around.”

The Barak was bought by Melbourne art dealer Lauraine Diggins, who has been known to bid for state institutions. Ms Diggins also made the winning bid on another of the night’s prized works, an early Papunya painting, created during the fledgling years of the Western Desert art movement by the late Shorty Lungkata Tjungurrayi. The untitled work, painted in 1972, sold for $168,000 (including commissions), setting a record for the artist. The painting will be included in the Origins exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria in 2011, as part of the gallery’s 150th anniversary celebrations.

From the start of last night’s auction it was obvious that the market was looking up when the first lot, a rare and fine hooked boomerang, sold for $20,400, believed to be a record for a boomerang.

But the night was not without its disappointments, primarily the failure to sell the historically significant Rover Thomas painting Massacre Site — Old Texas Downs. The work was passed in after a final bid of $155,000, well below the lower estimate of $180,000.

A total of $2.58 million in Aboriginal art was sold by Sotheby’s last night.


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Gallery: Sotheby's Australia
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