TOMMY MITCHELL, Walu, 2009, from my 2017 Annual Catalogue exhibition

Around this time last year I wrote a post about the increasing popularity of Private Sales in the Australian Indigenous art market. (If you missed it you can catch up here in The Fastest Growing Market Sector Nobody Talks About.)

As Private Treaty sales of artworks continue to grow exponentially and are fast becoming the leading method of sale of Indigenous art in Australia (if not already), now seems as good a time as any to examine why this is happening and how you can make the most of the trend.

The Australian art market has nowhere near the depth and breadth that can be seen overseas. In my opinion this is the fundamental reason that Private Sale – where prices are fixed and it’s up to the agent to find the right buyer – has become the most effective means to sell significant Australian Indigenous Art (and the majority of Australian Contemporary Art for that matter) within Australia.

KAAPA TJAMPITJINPA, Budgerigar Dreaming, 1972, from my 2017 Annual Catalogue exhibition

You see it much more clearly in the property market – let’s compare the exclusive Toorak against the broader Melbourne markets for example. When there is a more focused demand as there is in the top-end Toorak property market, houses are generally far better off selling by private sale – where the agent targets a particular buyer or buyers to negotiate the ultimate outcome. But by contrast in broader Melbourne, where there is currently unprecedented demand for good inner city housing, auction is the way to go.

Within the art market, it has not always been this clear cut, but it probably should be because the market forces and mechanisms that help drive an auction market up also have the power to pull artists’ prices down.

It is inherent that buyers want to buy at the lowest price possible, and at auction they have more power to drag on previously established auction prices or to sit on their hands if they see no other competition.

The newly established price or lack of sale is then published for the world to see…and so the cycle continues.

There are many cases where I would advise clients to sell their artwork at auction; for an artwork that will have incredibly strong demand for example or that has an extraordinary provenance (the Emily from Sir Elton John’s collection which sold at Bonhams recently is a great example of a work with that X-factor which was best sold on the open market).

But I whole-heartedly believe Private Sale is the way forward to continue building confidence in the Indigenous art market because…

Private sale puts the power back into the hands of the seller. (For more about the real cost of selling at auction, see my previous post)

An Early Broad Shield, mid nineteenth century, New South Wales, from my 2017 Annual Catalogue exhibition

As the seller, you have the power to choose exactly when and for how much the artwork is sold and it is not exposed to the open market in the process.  The key factor here is finding the right agent to facilitate the sale.

If you think that Private Sale might be best for you and your artwork, there are several important things your chosen agent should offer:

  • Proven experience and results in selling similar artworks

  • Respect within the industry – ideally recommended by trusted sources

  • Strong ties with key buyers – private and institutional

  • Knowledge and judgement to present your work in the best possible light and at the best possible time

  • Clear transactional parameters set at the beginning of the process

and importantly let’s not forget…

  • Clear, responsive and upfront communication the whole way through.

From a business perspective, my total sales have doubled for this financial year (compared with the last) – and that’s specifically due to private sales. Having just completed my Annual Exhibition where I sold 68% by volume and achieved a number of secondary market price records throughout the year, the argument for Private Sale over Auction for Australian Indigenous art is becoming clearer by the day.

If you would like to discuss this leading method of sale in more detail, contact me for complimentary and confidential advice.

Want to stay informed with more industry insights, collecting tips and artists to watch?