TOMMY MITCHELL, 1943–2013, Walu, 2009
synthetic polymer paint on linen, 152 x 152 cm, $18,000
From my 2017 Annual Catalogue

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

I have intentionally held back this edition to allow more sales data and auction results to flow through, which helps set the course for what is happening in 2017.

It’s shaping up to be a very good year.

Rover Thomas, Djugamerri and Bolgumerri, 1991
From the Laverty Collection, sold at Deutscher and Hackett
for $317,200 IBP

Globally speaking, several reports including TEFAF’s Art Market Report 2017 and ArtTactic’s Global Market Outlook for 2017, have suggested an improvement in sentiment across all regional markets heading into the year. A continuing shift in trade towards private dealers and galleries has also been widely noted – with privacy and anonymity becoming ever more desirable by collectors.

In my sphere, Private Sales of Australian Indigenous art are growing exponentially. So much so that I often wonder whether I should focus on Private Sales alone. But then my quarterly online listings are ticking away nicely and with consignments now complete, excitement is building for my Annual Catalogue exhibition coming up in June. There is an important place for public offerings that keep the art in sight and minds…

Elizabeth Nyumi Nungarrayi, Parwalla, 2001
From the Laverty Collection, sold at Deutscher and Hackett
for $37,820 IBP

And the timing could not be better. 

I can report that sales of contemporary art have tripled for me over the December and March quarters when compared to what was happening last year. Typically regarded as being the slowest of quarters, March has proven to be an incredibly productive period. 

It has been interesting to note that where historically significant artefacts and works of art have held resilient throughout the toughest periods since 2008 (and continues strong today), high quality contemporary works with strong provenance have now become the leading selling segment of all.

I base this new paradigm on several changes occurring in the marketplace. 

LIN ONUS, 1948–1996, Wirrirr Wirrirr (Rainbow Birds), 1988
synthetic polymer paint on canvas, 114 x 240 cm, $150,000
From my 2017 Annual Catalogue

Contemporary art has and will always be the most fluctuant of all groups. It is highly spontaneous and subjective, but it is fair to say that Contemporary works have the most potential for growth in any marketplace – but particularly in the Australian Indigenous art market.

What drives this growth?

Daniel Walbidi, Kirriwirri, 2007
From the Laverty Collection, sold at Deutscher and Hackett
for $56,120 IBP

A renewed interest internationally has been a significant contributing factor. There have been several major international exhibitions in the past 12–18 months that have thrown serious limelight back onto Australian Indigenous artists. 

Dennis Scholl’s touring exhibitions No Boundaries and Marking the Infinite and Stephen Gilchrist’s work Everywhen: The Eternal Present in Indigenous Art from Australia at Harvard Art Museums immediately come to mind. The consistent work that the Kluge-Ruhe Museum in Virginia has been doing can also not be underestimated in the awareness it has helped generate.

Judith Ryan’s monumental exhibition – Tjukurrtjanu in conjunction with the Musée du quai Branly has also had immeasurable and lasting effects internationally.

And of course, the international brand Sotheby’s is now holding stand-alone auctions in London, which has greatly increased awareness internationally and will help play a role by highlighting some of Australia’s most gifted artists (past and present). Sotheby’s will be holding its third annual auction of Aboriginal Art in September 2017.

BILL WHISKEY, 1920–2008, Rockholes Near the Olgas, 2008
synthetic polymer paint on linen, 183 x 270 cm, $70,000
From my 2017 Annual Catalogue

From here it is critical that leadership is taken (by exhibition coordinators, auction houses and dealers alike) and the market is fed only great things. 

It is also particularly important that auction houses place estimates that reflect this current shift in market sentiment. Estimates need to help instil confidence whilst at the same time encouraging spirited bidding – too high and it will scare the buyer’s away, too low and you can potentially tear down the confidence already built by previous strong sales results.

Liz Laverty’s decision to let go of a significant number of paintings at Deutscher and Hackett in early April is a perfect example – The Laverty Collection Part III can be declared a resounding success. The catalogue was strong and the estimates were enticingly balanced.

Prior to the sale, I told several clients that Lot 10 – Rover Thomas’ Djugamerri and Bolgumerri, 1991 could be seen as a true barometer of exactly where the market now sits. The painting is a most wonderfully resolved work, but not big in size (approx. 90 x 110 cm). I am thrilled to report that the quality of the work won out over size (as it should – see my post The 9 Essential Elements to Valuing Australian Indigenous Art for more on why size does – and doesn’t – matter), and the painting sold for $260,000 + BP ($317,000) against presale estimates of $220,000–280,000. 

Crispin Gutteridge should be given credit – for not only boldly estimating the work, but also steadfastly backing the quality of the work, which ultimately lead to the eventual and deserved result.

But there wasn’t just support for the mainstays in the market such as Rover and Emily. Highly contemporary and cutting edge works were also heavily contested as well.

Daniel Walbidi continues to shine. Lot 1 was an iconic example of the artists’ earlier period and style. Buoyed by the fact it appeared on the cover of the Laverty book and the fact it was simply a great work, the painting started the sale by rocketing past its conservative presale estimates and eventually selling for $56,120 IBP.

This was followed by very strong support in all areas, particularly for John Mawurndjul, Paddy Bedford, Rover, Emily, Kitty Kantilla and Wimmitji. (All featured in my 2016 post Top 10 Most Collectable Australian Indigenous Artists.)

But what was most encouraging, perhaps the most surprising results did not come through the more prominent names above – as you’d normally expect. It was the likes of Elizabeth Nyumi, Alma Webou, Makinti, Tjumpo Tjapanangka, Butcher Cherel, Corey Surprise, Rammey Ramsey and of course the aforementioned – Daniel Walbidi that made the most noise at the auction.

Laverty Part III was a perfect lead-in to help set the tone for the year. With further Australian Indigenous works included in D+H’s May Art sale, a stand-alone auction coming up at Mossgreen, my Annual Catalogue exhibition in June and the next Sotheby’s London auction in September – it could not have been a better or more well-timed start to 2017.

I hope all of the above goes some way to shed light on in Australian Indigenous Art movement and the art market in general. Whatever the shift in trend or change in direction the art market takes, what cannot be denied is:

Great art is always going to be great. 

Whether it is created by Picasso himself or by a relatively unknown Indigenous artist in the red dirt of the Australian outback, the selective best of our artwork can stand up against anything in the world. With a strong narrative and storyline released through such effective means of composition, the greatest works will begin to break through the barriers of location.


P.S. To help make a more enjoyable and sustainable marketplace moving forward, promise me these 3 things: 

1. Be incredibly discerning – buy the best you can afford from reputable sources, provenance is key.

2. Get strong and credible advice before making significant buying decisions.

3. Most importantly – buy what you love.


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