by Michael Bailey
Sep 19 2018 at 11:00 PM
A John Mawurndjul bark painting hidden under a bed for 10 years sold for an artist record $140,000 at Sydney Contemporary Art Fair last week, which itself achieved a record $21 million in total sales.
Approximately $10 million will flow back to the 300 artists exhibited at the fair, whose total sales increased $5 million from the $16 million record set at the 2017 event.
"I think that shows people are more confident, but I wouldn't say the art market is booming," fair director Barry Keldoulis told The Australian Financial Review.
"Which is fine by me because we all know where booms end up."
The sale of Mr Mawurndjul's Ngalyod – The Rainbow Serpent from 1999, facilitated by D'Lan Davidson, provided the story of the fair when it was revealed the anonymous owner had stored it beneath their bed for a decade.
"So when they saw the interest increase in John's portfolio, because of his retrospective at the Museum Of Contemporary Art at the moment, they had a perfectly preserved work to offer up that's as good as any hanging at the gallery," Mr Keldoulis said.
The $140,000 paid by an international collector for the painting in the "rarrk" style, an Arnhem Land technique using fine cross-hatching and infill, breaks the previous $120,000 record for a work by the 66-year-old artist. That was set at an auction of the Aboriginal art collection of late pathologist Colin Laverty in 2015.
There was high demand for young artists at the fair, which offers price points ranging from three figures to six figures, according to Mr Keldoulis.
All five artists named in a Financial Review "ones to watch" feature ahead of the fair – painters Tomislav Nikolic, Abdul Abdullah, Clara Adolphus and India Mark, and photographer Kai Wasikowski – had sold out over the fair's five days, he said.