EMILY KAME KNGWARREYE, 1910-1996, Alhalkere (My Country), 1990, sold at Deutscher and Hackett for $146,400 (IBP)

The Art Market Insider Guide is where I look at recent market activity and provide analysis so that collectors like yourself have an informed gauge on the Australian Indigenous Art sector.

As predicted, this has been a very strong year. 

Until very recently however, the year has been without the headlines and the fanfare that goes along with a major annual stand-alone Indigenous auction.

That’s because, with the exception of the Laverty auction at Deutscher and Hackett in May (and even that included both Indigenous and non-Indigenous works), there have been none.  

So where is the market strength coming from?

A quick look at the Australian Art Sales Digest reveals that the 2017 auction total for Indigenous art is up 21% on last year – which is great but that figure doesn’t give you the whole story.

That’s because all the real action has been happening behind the scenes

More on that later…

ROVER THOMAS, 1926-1998, Tumbi (Owl), 1989, sold at Mossgreen Auctions for $204,600 (IBP)

Let’s take a look at the auction houses first.

Major works of Australian Indigenous art have fared very strongly in all multi-vendor auctions this year. 

Several notable results include Emily Kame Kngwarreye’s Alkhalkere (My Country), 1990 which sold for $146,400 IBP at D+H in September and Rover Thomas’s Tumbi (Owl), 1989 which sold for $204,600 this past month at Mossgreen. Both were exceptional results for their respective artists.

As is usually the case with end-of-year Indigenous auctions in Australia, the results at Deutscher + Hackett’s most recent Australian sale were a little patchy.

The first several lots of Indigenous all sold well, including an exceptional result of $34,160 (IBP) for Sally Gabori’s 2012 work - which is the second highest price ever paid at auction.

But it wasn’t until Ronnie Tjampitjinpa’s Wilkinkarra, 1993 that all the noise was made – setting a new auction record for the artist of $151,280, eclipsing the previous record set of $79,812.

And with a great anticipation driven through the heavily marketed Emily’s Earth’s Creation 1, 1994 – Coo-ee/FAB launched its fledgling stand-alone Indigenous auction (the only stand-alone indigenous auction for the year).

The star lot didn’t disappoint - setting a new record for any female Australian artist at auction selling for an incredible $2.1million.

What we are now clearly seeing is that these two significant artists – Rover and Emily - who drove the market in the lead up to 2007, are now leading in the recovery. And it is clear to say, both artists have now pushed back past their respective 2007 levels.

Interestingly, both Bonham’s and D+H have opted to combine their multi-vendor sales under the ‘Australian Art’ banner.  Bonhams even choosing to combine the remaining estate of Mary Macha into their November Australian art sale.

I see this as a positive step – particularly for Contemporary Art - as I’ve long felt that Indigenous and non-Indigenous art should be viewed together.

JOHN TJAKAMARRA, 1926-1998, Untitled (Man’s Dreaming), 1971, sold privately by D’Lan Davidson for an undisclosed record artist price. 

What about the stand-alone sale at Sotheby’s in London?

After attending last year’s London auction and securing a number of works for clients, I am now advising certain vendors with very specific things to look off-shore and potentially consign to this prestigious sale.

And so, I was greatly looking forward to this year’s event (even had my trip planned). But I was left scratching my head when the September sale was removed from Sotheby’s 2017 calendar. It was then announced the London sale had been moved annually to March 2018 – this is good news.

Having experienced the highs and lows of the auction industry first hand, the second half of the year never fared well for Australian Indigenous Art at auction. The enthusiasm and energy is always in the first part of the year.

Combined with the fact that the Sotheby’s sale will be more in line with the timing of their other Contemporary art sales – this can only generate significantly more interest from some of the world’s most prominent collectors and dealers worldwide.

Now let’s talk about where the real action in Australia has been…

RONNIE TJAMPITJINPA, born 1943, Wilkinkarra (Lake Mackay), 1993, sold at Deutscher and Hackett for $151,280 (IBP) - an artists auction record price.

I would be lying if I told you that I wasn’t benefitting from the lack of stand-alone auctions for Australian Indigenous art in Australia.

The private treaty market has exploded in response. And so it should.

In the interest of transparency and demonstrating the strength of this growing market, I’d like to share with you that my total invoiced sales for the 2017 calendar year amount to $2,610,030 (and counting).

This is double my total for the 2016 calendar year. And I’m not alone.

All the major private dealers I’ve spoken with agree that there has been a significant strengthening of the private market for Indigenous art in 2017.

One particularly strong private sale was Rover Thomas’s Owl, 1989 that Tim Klingender sold reportedly for $275,000 at the Sydney Art Fair in September.  A fantastic result.

And I will share my top 10 private sales for the year in my next blog post, to be published on New Year’s day,. But as a little teaser, I can reveal that one of them was John Tjakamarra’s Untitled (Man’s Dreaming), 1971 (illustrated) which I sold for an undisclosed record price for the artist’s work.

YUKULTJI NAPANGATI, born 1970, Untitled, 2015, sold privately by D’Lan Davidson for $80,000

Secondary market art dealers have been playing second-fiddle to auctions in Australia for far too long, and are now clearly beginning to wrestle back market share – particularly for Australian Indigenous (and all Contemporary art for that matter) which I believe needs to be handled in a much more delicate and sophisticated manner than the auction model within Australia allows.

I find that the private sale method tends to have better outcomes for both buyers and sellers - particularly in the top end of the market.  When there are no deadlines looming and trust is established, the pressure is removed and both sides find it easier to relax and enjoy the process.  Sellers have more control and the buyers can take their time making important acquisition decisions.

Not to mention potentially huge cost savings in the process (which I’ve previously discussed in my blog The Real Cost of Selling at Auction).

It is possible for both the buyer and seller to be happy in a successful transaction.

How’s it looking in 2018?

Having seen for myself that international collectors are taking a very strong look at the Australian Indigenous art market once again, the opportunity is now for the astute Australian collector.

The confidence driven through a revitalized international market will cause a wave of enthusiasm for Australian Indigenous art…from my vantage point it’s already happening.


The importance of getting advice from the most reputable dealers and adhering to strict provenance guidelines cannot be understated.

Community Art centre provenance and/or the reputable primary representative for an artist (and there are only a few) are the only lines of provenance that you should consider when buying Australian Indigenous art.

I wrote a step by step post on establishing provenance earlier in the year – if you missed it you can check it out here.  Put simply, by following these clear guidelines there can be no safer place to buy art within Australia.

Looking forward…. 

2018 is already looking considerably stronger than the last. So much so I have adjusted my forward estimates and I am taking on a new team member.

Combine this with a number of forthcoming international exhibitions scheduled (one notably in Switzerland – Art Aborigene; Dreaming Territory which is curated by Georges Petitjean and runs through to 20 May 2018 at Foundation Pierre Arnaud) along with the aforementioned Sotheby’s London sale, Australian Indigenous art remains arguably the most undervalued market in the world.


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