By Adrian Newstead, on 19-Aug-2010

From the moment he walked in to his first Aboriginal art exhibition more than 20- years ago ear, nose and throat specialist Dr. Ian Bernadt  became a voracious collector. On viewing the first oval Utopia paintings in Robert Holmes a Court’s 1989 collection he told Perth dealer Sharon Monty to ‘Get me an Emily!’.

It was a year after the lively octogenarian had begun painting, and long before the feeding frenzy had developed around her work. He bought his first work on board by Rover Thomas for $350 (subsequently donated to the Art Gallery of Western Australia) and a small work by Paddy Jaminji, exhibited at Birukmarri Gallery during the Americas Cup. So smitten was he, that within a decade Bernadt’s collection extended well beyond the work of major artists, filling the walls of his leafy Dalkeith home, and his two surgeries.  His enthusiasm, observed with patient forbearance by his wife Sue, extended to artist after artist emerging from the developing community art centre and gallery system.

Travels to visit galleries and exhibitions interstate saw his collection grow to more than 100 artworks by the end of the 1990’s and to eventually reach more than 500 individual paintings and objects. With a lack of room to display the works, the vast majority lay stacked in rooms at his home and surgeries, impenetrably stacked along walls still wrapped in the bubble pack they had been delivered in. Here was a collector whose love and dedication to his vocation matched his unbridled excitement for his passion.

Besides Aboriginal art he collected works by Australian contemporary artists including Rosalie Gascoigne, Colin Lancely, Dick Watkins, Robert Owen and Howard Taylor. With so many works in storage his desire to have the works seen led him to begin donating pieces to a number of Western Australian institutions including the Art Gallery of Western Australia, and Murdoch, Edith Cowan and Curtain Universities.

Of the major works in this single vendor sale Emily Kame Kngwarreye’s early 1990  untitled canvas (Lot 20 ) is a bargain at $40,000-$60,000. It measures 152 x 122 cm and was on loan to the Art Gallery of Western Australia through the 1990’s. Rover Thomas’s Some Places I have Been (Lot 19 ) was painted just prior to his death in 1998. It carries Waringarri Aboriginal Arts provenance and is accompanied by a certificate from Red Rock Art in Kununurra. At $30,000–40,000 this 100 x 140 cm canvas represents superb value.  The cover lot by Paddy Bedford is a dramatic work which at 122 x 135cm carrying provenance from Jirrawun arts and Martin Brown, Sydney would be a bargain at the estimates d $50,000–70,000.

There are far to many works of interest at reasonable estimates in this sale to be able to single out many here. What impresses, is the collector’s eclectic taste and lack of conservatism.  At each and every turn he purchased interesting examples of emerging styles with little care for any notion of ‘investment’. Constantly attracted by the unusual and new, he bought from the first show each time an artist or community art style appeared publicly. This has made it easier for Mossgreen to offer them for sale at prices that meet the current market. 

For those hoping to acquire a good work by any of a hundred or more artists of interest in the history of the movement this sale represents a wonderful opportunity. The catalogue is only partially illustrated making attendance during the viewing absolutely essential.

Ian and Sue Bernadt are selling only 200 of their Aboriginal paintings in this single owner sale and have no plans to stop buying art. As for the future, they intend to continue seeking out interesting new works to add to a refined collection while enabling others to enjoy the fruits of their insatiable collecting zeal.

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About The Author

Adrian Newstead co-founded Coo-ee Aboriginal Art Gallery, Australia’s oldest exhibiting Aboriginal art gallery, in 1981. He is a valuer of Aboriginal and contemporary Australian art accredited by the Federal Department of the Arts, and acted as the Head of Aboriginal Art for Lawson~Menzies Auction House 2003-2006, and Managing Director of Menzies Art Brands 2007-2008. Adrian Newstead Fine Art Consultancy compiles and maintains profiles, statistics and market analytics on the most important 200 Aboriginal artists and acts for, and advises, collectors when buying and selling collectable Australian artworks at auction and through private sale. A widely published arts commentator and author, Adrian is based in Bondi, New South Wales.