By Charlotte Stanes, on 27-May-2016

Many high prices and plenty of good buying made for a solid result at Deutscher and Hackett’s Important Aboriginal Works of Art auction on Wednesday.

Emily Kngwarreye had a great night at Deutscher and Hackett’s Important Aboriginal Works of Art auction in Melbourne on 25 May with 5 of her 7 paintings offered finding new homes and one of them achieving the auction's top result. The top result, after a long battle on the phones, was Awelye, 1995 which sold for $130,000 hammer ($158,600 including Buyer’s Premium) with pre-sale estimates of $80,000-120,000.

The sale began with the Collection of the late Duncan Kentish (lots 1-13), the first group of his paintings to be offered for auction.  The standout result was for Quarta-Tooma (Ormiston Gorge), 1939 (Lot 7 ) by Albert Namatjira, an artist who seems to have weathered the tough market particularly well.  This is a particularly early and rare scene and attracted several interested bidders.  It was sold for $70,000 hammer ($85,400 including Buyer’s Premium), smashing its pre-sale estimate of $30,000-50,000.

A disappointing outcome for Charlie Numbulmoore’s Arkula Spirit Being, 1970 (Lot 4 ), which did not find a buyer.  It’s an important work by a major artist and would be well suited to an institutional collection, perhaps lacking the aesthetic appeal to attract the private bid.

Reinforcing the importance that a premium source of provenance places on an Indigenous artwork was the result of lot 5 by Rover Thomas.  An exceptional painting, but without the desired Mary Macha or Warringari provenance, it sold for decidedly less than its estimates of $80,000-120,000 with a $65,000 hammer ($79,300 including Buyer’s Premium).

A final highlight from Kentish was Robert Campbell Junior’s Killed in the Line of Duties Led to Gundy’s Innocent Killing (Who Me, Why Me?), 1990 (Lot 13 ) which achieved an auction record for the artist with $40,000 hammer ($48,800 including Buyer’s Premium), well exceeding its estimates of $10,000-12,000.  Urban Indigenous paintings with a strong narrative like this one are performing increasingly well in the current market.  Much like the exploding interest in Lin Onus, from which there was one example in this sale, Gumingi (Magpie Geese), 1987 (Lot 43 ).  Though his early works are not as highly desired as his later period, this one did well at $55,000 hammer ($67,100 including Buyer’s Premium).

Emily Kngwarreye had a great night with 5 of her 7 paintings offered finding new homes and one of them achieving the auction's top result.  The stunning Untitled (Alalgura Landscape/Yam Flowers), 1995 (Lot 17 ) was conservatively estimated at $30,000-40,000 and sold for $40,000 hammer ($48,800 including Buyer’s Premium).  This painting previously sold at the Laverty Collection in 2013 for $45,000 hammer.  The top result, after a long battle on the phones, was Awelye, 1995 (Lot 34 ) which sold for $130,000 hammer ($158,600 including Buyer’s Premium) with pre-sale estimates of $80,000-120,000.  A huge increase from the last time it sold in 2011 for $80,000 hammer, also at Deutscher and Hackett, but still far from the artist’s peak in 2006-2007.

The following lot, Kame Colour XII, 1996 (Lot 35 ) also did very well.  Painted in the final year of her life, this work has all the exuberance and expression of her best works.  Coupled with a tidy provenance and being its first outing at auction, the work sold for $95,000 hammer ($115,900 including Buyer’s Premium) with pre-sale estimates of $60,000-80,000.

One of the big highlights of the night was an exquisite early Papunya painting by Johnny Warangkula Tjupurrula, Mala (Rufous Hare Wallaby) Dreaming (Lot 19 ).  Verified by Geoffrey Bardon as Warangkula’s first painting created at Papunya in 1971, this little jewel by one of the ‘Old Masters’ of the Indigenous art movement attracted a bidding war over the phones and eventually sold for $54,000 hammer ($65,880 including Buyer’s Premium), far exceeding its estimates of $18,000-25,000.

There was exceptional buying to be had from the Gene and Brian Sherman collection.  With six very good works carrying conservative estimates, the collection didn’t quite reach its potential.  Paddy Bedford’s Fig Tree Hole, 2005 (Lot 21 ) sold for $75,000 hammer ($91,500 including Buyer’s Premium) with pre-sale estimates of $80,000-100,000. Emily Kngwarreye’s Untitled, 1992 (Lot 22 ) sold for a solid $38,000 hammer ($46,360 including Buyer’s Premium) with pre-sale estimates of $40,000-60,000.  A major work by Ronnie Tjampitjinpa, Tingari Cycle, 1997 (Lot 24 ), of the quality recently exhibited in his retrospective at the AGNSW was a great buy at $20,000 hammer ($24,400 including Buyer’s Premium).

Several other works by Paddy Bedford included in the general sale had mixed results, reflecting the quality and appeal of each work.  Lot 33 Twenty Mile, 1999, a strong but not highly desired composition by the artist, went unsold.  In comparison, lot 48, Untitled, 2004 was in one of his smallest formats (outside of his gouaches) but with the highly desired shades of pink in the white background, went through the roof, selling for $58,000 hammer ($70,760 including Buyer’s Premium) against pre-sale estimates of $30,000-50,000. 

Highly contemporary artists performed well overall.  The highlight of this group was a large and striking work by 33 year old artist Daniel Walbidi, Kirriwirri, 2013 (Lot 70 ).  This work is of similar palette to the painting that won him the National Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Art Painting Award in 2014 which subsequently sold for $40,000 to Liz Laverty.  Kirriwirri went above and beyond its pre-sale estimates of $30,000-50,000, selling for $65,000 hammer ($79,300 including Buyer’s Premium).  This was an auction record for the artist, making the Laverty acquisition seem all the more astute. 
A smaller work by Walbidi followed soon after, Kirriwirri, 2014 (Lot 73 ) for $15,000 hammer ($18,300 including Buyer’s Premium), bought by Norman Rosenblatt (who often bids on behalf of institutions).  Walbidi is most certainly a young Australian artist to watch.

The Photography Collection from Queensland did quite well, for a medium that is generally undervalued in the Australian market.  Lot 27 failed to find a buyer, however the other four works all sold within their estimates.

The second half of the sale had some good buys but also quite a few left unsold, with many lots included that perhaps should not have been sitting alongside the many ‘important’ works that deserved the auction title. 

The figures supplied by a Deutscher and Hackett representative the following day were higher than the prices-realised at auction, indicating that several aftersales were included in their total of $1,644,600 hammer ($2,004,652 including Buyer’s Premium) with 73% sold by volume.   Official results will be published on the Deutscher and Hackett site on Friday, and will include any after sales made in that time. 

All in all it was a solid sale with encouraging results in a market showing clear signs of expanding confidence.   

Sale Referenced: Important Aboriginal + Oceanic Art Auction, Deutscher and Hackett , Melbourne, 25/05/2016

About The Author

Charlotte Stanes has worked the Australian auction industry from the ground up, starting in 1998 as an auction assistant at Christie’s before moving into marketing management at Bonhams & Goodman, Sotheby’s Australia and most recently at Mossgreen. Charlotte is now a marketing consultant and writer, based in Melbourne.

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