Of the ‘easy to sell’ early lots of the sale, Colin McCahon’s Moby Dick is Sighted off Muriwai, (Lot 4 ) a lithograph in an edition of 200 hit the truly extraordinary price of $17,500 against a reserve of $8,000, equalling the prices which have been paid for limited edition Don Binney bird prints of late. I’d like to think that this shows a growing interest in the medium of printmaking itself, often considered the poor cousin of painting but I believe that the prices are motivated by the acquisition of the image itself and a desire to own something recognisable by the artist.
Proving that imagery is a driver of a successful sale, a full scale cast bronze sculpture by Paul Dibble utilising some of his best known motifs, was another of the early strong results. Green Tango (Lot 21 ) had been a pre-sale highlight, fully polished and just over 2 metres tall in ready to display condition, it was extremely popular with bidders to realise $85,000 against a $65,000 low estimate and achieve the second highest price for the artist at auction.
However sometimes classic imagery isn’t enough to get a sale over the line, and this week’s auctions could suggest a change in fortune for the sales of Karl Maughan in an auction setting. The last couple of years have produced unbelievable results for the vendors of his works, with some works purchased within the year being turned over and sold at a profit. This week, four works by Maughan were offered, two at Webb’s and two at A+O. Of the two at Webb’s, one was sold under estimate and the other unsold. The paintings at A+O were the stronger examples, but also produced conservative results, with Victoria Ave (Lot 28 ) unsold and Argyle Street (Lot 29 ) sold on low estimate of $20,000.
The mid point of the sale led into the higher value lots with no shortage of works valued at $100,000 or more. Appearing at Art + Object for the second time in three years after being offered at the Annie Coney sale in 2017, Michael Parekowhai’s Tua Rima from Patriot: Ten Guitars (Lot 48 ) was listed at $100,000-$150,000, the low estimate being the same price the work was purchased for in 2017, excluding buyer’s premium. Parekowhai is a true superstar of the New Zealand art market and this series is a significant and well exhibited one, however a more conceptual work such as this can be a more challenging for buyers to engage with at this higher price point, requiring a deep understanding of the artist’s work. Perhaps due to this, the interest from the room was limited and the lot was sold subject to a room buyer at $75,000.
‘When it rains, it pours’ so the adage goes and this week it was the turn of Colin McCahon’s Load Bearing Structures (Lot 49 ) series to rain down on the market. Webb’s had offered a stellar example the night before at almost the same estimate which took top price in their sale, so it looked positive for lot 49. Two bidders in the room (and I didn’t notice the underbidder from the previous night) competed strongly and the painting realised $70,000 against a low estimate of $60,000.
Don Binney’s 1960s bird paintings continue to sell well and Te Henga (Lot 50 ) sold to art consultant Sophie Coupland for $55,000, which seemed extremely reasonable given the strength of the image and fine condition of the work. The following lot also by Don Binney, Pipiwharauroa over Matuku (Lot 51 ) dating from the early 1960s achieved the highest price of the night at $350,000 when it sold to a phone bidder although this was still $50,000 under the low estimate of $400,000.
A fascinating inclusion in the sale was British artist Sir Terry Frost’s Red, Black and White 1967 (Lot 55 ). The painting is a wonderful example of British abstraction and looked right at home on the walls at A+O during the viewing amongst the New Zealand offerings. The painting was from a private collection in Auckland but had been on loan to Auckland Art Gallery where it had been exhibited frequently. The owners had intended to send the painting to Christie’s in London, but the persuasive powers of Art + Object Director of Art Ben Plumbly convinced them to test the waters in Auckland instead. At $150,000 - 250,000, the estimate was the highest of the sale and sat against the international prices for Sir Terry Frost did seem optimistic. The auctioneer must have sensed this as bidding for the lot opened and closed at $80,000 and it was sold subject to the only telephone bidder.
Another international painting, on its second outing to the auction room was Rosalie Gascoigne’s Flagged Down (Lot 56 ) which was part of the Gerard and Marti Friedlander sale that A+O held last November. Unsold then at $230,000, the work was reoffered with a low estimate of $150,000 and it sold at that to a bidder in the room and nabbed the second highest price of the evening.
The overall result of the sale was incredibly strong, selling over one million dollars under the hammer with a lot more going through in the following days. This total is in line with pre-Covid results so the team at A+O will be feeling relived that their pre-sale interest didn’t abate and that their clients stayed the course and bid with confidence.
POSTSCRIPT: As with the other auction houses, much post sale activity has taken place, especially on the higher value items. A+O have announced successful negotiations for Ralph Hotere, Lo Negro Sobre Lo Oro for $88,000 and Michael Parekowhai’s Tua Rima for $75,000. An excellent outcome has occurred for Terry Frost’s painting which has been purchased by a private client and will be put on long-term loan to the Suter Gallery, a small regional gallery in Nelson, South Island. This generous act of philanthropy will certainly benefit the gallery immensely – a true happy ending to a busy auction week!
All prices quoted are hammer prices in $NZ and do not include the buyer's premium of 17.5% unless otherwise noted.