Art Market Insider Guide / April 2016

Top trends and artists to watch this season...

One of my goals in business is to provide honest, straight-forward advice in a market that can be a difficult place to navigate. With this in mind I’m going to write a post each quarter that will be an ‘insider guide’ to what the major players have been up to and who have been the key movers, in terms of artists and artistic periods, selling at auction and privately.

Let’s start with what’s been happening in the auction world.

Recent auctions and single-owner sales of Australian Art have demonstrated that it is becoming harder to buy at the top end with a steady increase in competition – which is always a good sign. 

FLORENCE FULLER 1867–1946  Weary  1888 Sold at Sotheby's Australia for $280,600

Weary 1888
Sold at Sotheby's Australia for $280,600

Unsurprisingly the mainstays in the market, particularly the much-loved ‘Heidleberg School’ artists like Arthur Streeton, Walter Withers, Tom Roberts, Charles Condor and Frederick McCubbin continue to achieve strong results. 

It is worth noting that the period shortly after the turn of the century is also gaining strength – artists such as George Lambert and Florence Fuller come to mind.  A particularly well-accomplished earlier work by Fuller recently sold at Sotheby’s for a record $280,000, eclipsing her next highest result at auction by some $200,000. I recently sold works by both Fuller and Lambert privately (see my recent blog post on Lambert’s ‘Ruby Lind’ here.) The increasing demand makes this slightly later period one to keep an eye on.

Australian contemporary art has also shown some confidence returning which is a buck in trend from previous years. Artists such as Ricky Swallow, Danie Mellor, Aida Tomescu, Ben Quilty, Del Kathryn Barton and Fiona Hall have all been performing well in both the primary and secondary markets. It is pleasing to see collectors’ interest in these more challenging areas increasing, moving away from the traditional ‘safe buyer’ mentality.  Discretion and selectivity is the key in this market.

An Early Rainforest Shield nineteenth century Innisfail, Northeast Queensland Part of my Annual Catalogue (Selling Exhibition)  coming up at William Mora Galleries   on 2 June 2016

An Early Rainforest Shield
nineteenth century
Innisfail, Northeast Queensland
Part of my Annual Catalogue (Selling Exhibition) coming up at William Mora Galleries on 2 June 2016

Australian mid-century modern artists have long been overlooked at auction and in my opinion will see their day in the sun in the near future. It’s an area that has been under-appreciated in Australia, while in contrast their international counterparts continue to be in high demand. Artists such as Ralph Balson, Godfrey Miller, Yvonne Audette, Guy Grey-Smith and perhaps the most undervalued of them all, sculptor Robert Klippel. My tip is to watch this group closely at auction this year and beyond.

Confidence is strengthening in the Australian Indigenous art market, which has had the longest period of negligible growth of all segments in the Australian art market.

Artefacts and historically significant works are particularly strong, in fact the market for early shields has never been stronger and I feel that we are still early on in this cycle. I’ve noticed also a shift in the type of buyers of artefacts – no longer solely the realm of the ethnographic collector, the well-healed and attuned art collectors now have their eyes cast with enthusiasm on this segment of the market.

As with any artwork sold on the secondary market, beauty and rarity are the key driving forces for collectors (and it goes without saying an impeccable provenance is also important). The sculptural and aesthetic appeal is what sets the shields apart from most other artefacts. There have been many exceptional results in recent months – most notably at Sotheby’s in London where a rare broad shield sold for around AU$180,000.

I can also reveal that I have been in discussions with a key collector about a major internationally touring exhibition of important shields (more on that in a later post), so there will be increasing interest and attention in this area to come.

GORDON BENNETT (1955–2014) NOTES TO BASQUIAT: (AB) ORIGINAL, 1999 Estimate: $40,000 - 60,000 To be auctioned at Deutscher + Hackett on 5 May 2016

Estimate: $40,000 - 60,000
To be auctioned at Deutscher + Hackett on 5 May 2016

Early Australian Indigenous art with strong aesthetic appeal is also on the rise – in particular early Papunya boards are now showing a belated but strong resurgence both at auction and privately.  Again, beauty, rarity and impeccable provenance are the key driving factors when buying in this segment. Don’t settle for anything less.

Contemporary Australian Indigenous art still has a little way to go to catch up with the rest of the market. The lower Australian Dollar will continue to spur international interest and help with the incorrect perception of an over-supplied market. The proposed amendments to the Moveable Cultural Heritage Act*, which should see a lift in the limiting and out-of-date export restrictions placed on Australian Indigenous art, will also play a big part in strengthening this sector internationally. We all wait with baited breath on this one…

Looking for an artwork that is a little edgier with the potential for some serious growth? In my opinion Urban Australian Indigenous artists are definitely worth keeping an eye on. Large works with a strong narrative created by the likes of Lin Onus or the recently deceased Gordon Bennett and Trevor Nickolls are destined for serious attention in the secondary market. Onus’ works in particular have achieved spectacular results at recent auctions and two serious works by Bennett are coming up for auction at Deutscher + Hackett in May. Deeply challenging works with a strong political voice (the louder the better) are what distinguish these artists from the rest. 

Some of the practicing Urban Indigenous artists to watch are Tony Albert and Richard Bell, along with Vernon Ah Kee, Josh Muir and the less accessible installation artist Jonathan Jones – all are gaining voice in a most positive way and are considered important Australian artists of the present and future.

Before I wrap up, a quick look at what’s coming up in the auction calendar as we have a busy season approaching. Sotheby’s Australia and Deutscher + Hackett have their first major art auctions coming up in May and both have produced impressive catalogues of works to kick off the auction season.

I am interested to see how the Denis Savill offering by Sotheby’s Australia is perceived in the marketplace and whether the brand can generate the success that such a great patron of the arts deserves. Denis will be greatly missed, if indeed he becomes no longer active in the industry – I can’t see how that is possible though…

For the Australian Indigenous auction calendar (I still can’t fathom why the two segments remain separated, but that’s a story for another post), I am intrigued to see both D+H and Mossgreen’s next Indigenous catalogues coming up in late May and in June. The fantastic result for Tony Norton and Jann Williams’ Collection should keep the contemporary market in good stead moving forward. The auction catalogue and exhibition were a true credit to Jesse De Deyne and the Department and was a sensational result for Tony and Jann who have been, and continue to be, great patrons and supporters of Australian Indigenous art. 

I’d like to finish off paying tribute to the renowned Australian sculptor, Inge King, who passed away last week at the impressive age of 100. King was an absolute pioneer in contemporary sculpture and her powerful, monumental works can be seen in public spaces all over Melbourne. Her contribution to the arts has enriched us all and she will be sadly missed.

If you have any questions regarding the market, I’d love to hear from you:

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*The Moveable Cultural Heritage Act (PMCH Act) was designed in 1986 to protect cultural heritage items (like early artefacts, culturally sensitive Papunya boards and ceremonial material). It is now at least 15 years out of date and has not moved with the changing times. With anything over 20 years of age being captured by this antiquated legislation, the act now inadvertently holds up the potential of serious international interest in the contemporary Australian Indigenous art movement – which impacts the livelihood of many artists, families and their communities.


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