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With the sharemarket rising, the successful sale on Sunday of the collection of Colin and Elizabeth Laverty will give dealers hope the art market is also ready for an upswing.
More than 300 people ignored a stunning late summer’s day to crowd into the Museum of Contemporary Art on Sydney’s harbour front on Sunday to watch 266 contemporary artworks go under the hammer.
The Bonhams auction of works from the collection of the late Sydney pathologist Colin Laverty and his wife Elizabeth grossed $4.14 million ($5 million including buyer’s premium), midway between its presale estimate of $3.9 million to $5.6 million.
The sale cleared 86.5 per cent by lot and 84 per cent by value.
There were 349 registered bidders, many casting their bids over the telephone or internet. Among those in the room were former arts minister Peter Garrett, Aboriginal art specialist Wally Caruana, former Sotheby’s chairman Justin Miller and former Christie’s managing director Roger McIlroy.
At a time when contemporary art sales, and art auctions in general, have been tough, the auction highlighted the benefit of a single owner sale, which can whip up excitement, and the blue-chip provenance of the Lavertys – who have been collecting contemporary art for decades and bought much of their Aboriginal artworks on trips to remote communities. There was poignancy too; Colin Laverty died in February of cancer, aged 75.
The big-ticket paintings sold mostly for their low estimates, suggesting that at the top end art buyers are still cautious. But they sold, in contrast with the results of many auctions over the past few years, and no doubt a relief to Elizabeth Laverty, sitting in the second row with family members.
On top of all hammer prices buyers pay a 22 per cent auction house fee.
Works at lower prices sparked the best bidding duels, particularly paintings by well-respected mid-career artists, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal. New auction records were set for Peter Upward, Aida Tomescu, John Mawurndjul, Ildiko Kovacs and Paji Honeychild Yankarr.
It was a good day for abstract art, for which Colin Laverty had a particular penchant, but from which many Australian collectors shy away in favour of figurative paintings. Upward’s 1962 October Still made $110,000 hammer, nearly double its $60,000 high estimate and a record for the artist, who died in 1983. A beautiful blue Aida Tomescu painting from 2002 set a new record for the Sydney artist when it tripled its high estimate to make $60,000. Dick Watkins’s The Mooche (1968) made a $93,000 hammer, more than a half above its $60,000 high estimate, and Ildiko Kovacs’s2004 painting Boot made $72,000 hammer, nearly three times its high estimate.
Sally Gabori was also in hot demand: a 2009 painting that featured on the cover of a book about her doubled its high estimate to make $20,000.