Art market trends, insights and tips on buying, selling & collecting art...


Installation view:  DESERT PAINTERS OF AUSTRALIA , Gagosian New York. Photo Rob McKeever

Installation view: DESERT PAINTERS OF AUSTRALIA, Gagosian New York. Photo Rob McKeever

With all the excitement and activity that’s been sweeping the Indigenous art market over the last 6 months, I think you’ll find this instalment of the Art Marker Insider particularly potent. 

Major international exhibitions and news coverage across the world’s most important media outlets has generated an undeniable buzz in the market.  Many journalistic commentators are even calling the next boom (some of whom previously lead the chorus of nay-sayers).

But with this new market strength there needs to be a moment of pause - for artists and collectors alike. Unless there is a deep understanding of - and adherence to - the strong lines of provenance, there will be many collectors missing the boat and artists jeopardising their careers.

(NB. In order to educate the growing market on this key issue, I’m devoting a good portion of content in my next catalogue to the critical importance of provenance - so stay tuned for that in mid-August.)

Even with the economic headwinds brought by a change in government in Australia, the Indigenous Australian art market remains robust and strong. In my opinion, it’s the most undervalued of all markets internationally – simply because it has not had a fair run since 2008/2009 largely due to the restrictive legislative settings (which have now been freed up since changes were made to the PMCH Act in December 2018).

This market still has a long way to run, so let’s begin. 


In April, the unexpected partnership of film star Steve Martin and gallery mogul Larry Gagosian to bring Desert Painters of Australia to Gagosian’s Madison Avenue gallery made a huge splash on the international stage.

Ten works from Steve’s private collection – including works by Emily Kame, Warlimpirrnga and George Tjungurrayi – were seen by the crème de la crème of the New York art world, most of whom had never seen anything like it before.  And the response was unanimous – the exhibition was deemed ‘a triumph’.

It was the reaction of the installation team that struck me most – experienced handlers who’ve surely ‘seen it all’ – they were genuinely blown away by the power of these works.  I think that response, from people who know the work of some of the world’s greatest practitioners on an intimate level, says it all.

And the critics agreed – from Sebastian Smee at the Washington Post to Jason Farago’s fantastic piece in the New York Times, the acclaim was widespread and universal – Indigenous Australian art is once again in the spotlight.

Director Louise Neri and Gallery Manager Clare Gidwitz are to be commended on their wonderful curation, and in a piece of ‘breaking news’ I can reveal that Desert Painters will soon be heading west to a new audience – with an extended exhibition at Gagosian’s Beverly Hills gallery running from 26 July – 6 September 2019.  

This major exhibition will have long-lasting effects at all levels of the Indigenous art market.  The admiration and respect from one of the most important commercial galleries in the world, as well as from the many institutional directors and collectors that were able to see the works in New York, can only work in favour of Indigenous artists and their communities.


ROVER THOMAS.  Tjadarung , circa 1985. Photo: D’Lan Davidson

ROVER THOMAS. Tjadarung, circa 1985. Photo: D’Lan Davidson

With very little to report on the local Australian auction scene - much of it low-level action online - I will turn my attention to the leading method of sale for Indigenous Australian art within Australia, Private Treaty Sale.

No doubt buoyed by the flurry of activity and excitement from New York, my most recent annual exhibition – SIGNIFICANT achieved 90% by volume and value which is an exceptional result in the current local economic environment. 

Of these sales, when combined with other private sales from the last 2 quarters, approximately 80% have been to international buyers. This is a marked turnaround from even a year ago, when Australian buyers were the leading market drivers.

Highlights of the exhibition include the sale of this important early work by Rover Thomas to an international collector selling for $240,000 AUD, and a significant bark painting by John Mawurndjul selling to a local buyer for $120,000 AUD.

I can also report that my sales for this June quarter are double that of any previous quarter. This can be attributed to several leading factors, but none more important than the fact that private sale is exactly that – it’s a private sale. There are many reasons why clients might choose to sell privately and I’ve spoken at length about the benefits - to learn more check out my previous blog: The fastest growing market sector nobody talks about.

Another factor of this success is due to the fact that I tread very lightly within the marketplace - I only take a commission of 20% + GST from any sale of consigned artworks and no commission from the buyer.  My simple fee structure is a strategy I’ve had in place since I started the business in order to keep the cost of buying and selling on the secondary market as low as possible - if you’re interested in learning how this benefits you as a collector and the art market as a whole, check out The real cost of selling at auction.


EMILY KAME KNGWARREYE,  Summer Celebration , 1991. Photo: Sotheby’s

EMILY KAME KNGWARREYE, Summer Celebration, 1991. Photo: Sotheby’s

Following the great success of the Gagosian exhibition, Sotheby’s have announced that they will now move their Aboriginal Art sale from London to New York. 

One has to wonder why the sale was ever held in London to begin with. But with the new location now seemingly on track and set for November in New York – all eyes will be on this important international auction.

With almost 2 years in between this auction and the last, third-party specialist - Tim Klingender must prove that Sotheby’s retains the mantle of market leader in the field, because presently – I’m just not seeing it. 

There can be no question that private treaty sales of Indigenous Australian art are now clearly leading the pack in the promotion and protection of this market. Nevertheless, I believe that this locational move will have a most positive effect, not only on this sale, but the entire marketplace moving forward. 

It is now time to be brave and bold. 

Auction estimates (when the work deserves it), must pay respect to the artist and reflect the quality of the artwork being offered. No longer will the old adage of ‘price it low and watch it go’ at auction work. Estimates need to be truly reflective of the current market value – to instil confidence in this clearly rising market.

Auction houses must move with the market, or risk falling further behind.

Take for example one of the highlights of the forthcoming Sotheby’s auction in November - Summer Celebration, 1991 (pictured) which is a masterwork by Emily Kame Kngwarreye – arguably Australia’s most celebrated artist. The painting is monumental in size and in my opinion is estimated ridiculously conservatively at $300,000 - $500,000 USD.

When this painting is knowingly worth closer to $800,000 - 1mil USD in the marketplace today, I question the methodology behind this pricing strategy. Let’s just hope it gets the run that the painting and artist quite rightly deserve.

The market needs consistency in the timing of this annual sale and consistency in reliable estimates.

As with every overseas auction at Sotheby’s in past, I have been very supportive both through actively bidding on behalf of clients and in promotion. I remain the same for this sale, but my patience is now running thin…

D’Lan Davidson

Want to know more about selling by Private Treaty? Get in touch.