44 Career Overall Rank
61 2018 Market Rank
Over recent years, few works of real quality by Judy Watson have appeared for sale in the secondary market. Yet prior to this, the rising interest in works by Watson on the secondary market had been nothing short of phenomenal. By 2010 her status amongst the most important living artists of the movement was matched only by the careers of Tommy Watson and Paddy Bedford. Every one of her ten highest results and 19 of her top 20 were set after 2006, with the only exception having sold in 2005. There were two main reasons for this. The splendid use of her Hair String image on the cover of the catalogue for the National Gallery of Victoria’s Colour Power exhibition held during 2004, and her ability to create large, highly colour charged, dynamic works.
Her works first appeared at auction in 1994, yet by the end of 2005 only eight of the 22 works offered, or 36%, had sold and her career average price languished at just $4,791. However her Aboriginal art market rating jumped from just 0.713 in 2005 to 2.432 by the end of 2007 and in 2008 increased by a whopping 37% to 3.325. This saw her rise from the 46th to the 33rd most important artist of all time in a single year. In 2009 she climbed further to 32nd place as she leapfrogged Naata Nungurayi, Kathleen Petyarre, and Freddie Timms amongst the ranks of living artists.
Her sales since 2010 have, however, dropped sharply. In 2010 only four works sold of nine offered with the highest price being $3,840. And while she was the 17th most successful artist in 2011 only one work of three offered in 2012 sold, and this was for just $1,473. Results since then have been little better though she did have one work enter her top 10 results in 2016, at 6th place.
Her phenomenal rise pre 2010 was achieved partially on the back of two resales that followed in quick succession. Her Magnum Opus, Women’s Dreaming created for Peter Van Groessen in 1995, which had been held by Kimberley Art Gallery in Melbourne until first offered at auction in 2006, originally sold at Lawson~Menizes November auction to Rod Menzies consortium for $192,000 (Lot 155). With the onset of the economic downturn it decided to try its luck at resale following another international advertising campaign. It turned out to be a poor decision. The painting made little if any profit after commissions when it sold for $216,000 in the Lawson~Menizes March 2008 sale (Lot 231). Another Menzies consortium purchased Snake Vine 1995 with the same provenance in May 2006 for $28,800 and received just $30,000 when it resold in March 2008 (Lot 244). Despite their lack of success, re-sales of this magnitude saw her career total sales jump dramatically in just four years. Her total second art market sales stood at just $38,332 in 2004 compared to today’s $1,163,260. This leap is not wholly accounted for by re-sales however, as an untitled work fetched $87,889 in 2009, the artist third highest sale to date. The work bears strong resemblance, though larger at 204 x 235 cm, to Mina Mina, Hair String Story 2004, which sold for $33,600 in 2006, a significant appreciation. No doubt the fact that it had featured on the cover of the Gaia Auction in Paris enabled this very encouraging result. Amazing as it may seem, Sotheby’s has not made any of these sales. Lawson~Menzies has championed this artist and its closest competitor has been Mossgreen, Bonhams and Goodman.
With such exposure in the secondary market it is little wonder that there has been a definite buzz around Judy Watson’s work in primary galleries. This has been stimulated further by the entry of a number of independent dealers with their minds firmly set on investment paintings. Geoff Henderson, owner of Aboriginal Art World, is a perfect example. The former Executive Director of Finance and Sales in a FTSE top 20 company, Henderson identified those artists he wanted to work with, set up a first rate facility where they could paint, employed staff experienced in art, commissioned major works, and paid top dollar. Judy Watson joined a number of other major artists who worked with Henderson from the beginning of 2007. An example of these major works, My Dreaming 2007, was submitted to Lawson~Menzies by a former Henderson employee for their October 2008 sale (Lot 245). While the stunning 180 x 297 cm work estimated at $90,000-120,000 sold for just $48,000 this represented a good wholesale return on a work for which the artist was paid around $20,000. It was as much as the dealer would have expected had he offered it to a gallery. There are many more works of this quality currently sitting in galleries and collectors should be able to purchase them for well below gallery prices at auction over the next few years.
Judy Watson Napangardi was an irrepressibly energetic artist who produced dynamic joyful works full of colour. Her shimmering canvases emulate the Warlpiri notion that health, well-being, and allure are exemplified by the glint of refracted brightness. Her paintings convey ancient stories with a modern sensibility. This will ensure that they stand amongst the most desirable of all contemporary Australian art well in to the future and continue to propel her into the most select group of Aboriginal painters of all time.
Born at Yarungkanji, Mt. Doreen Station, northwest of Alice Springs c.1925, Judy grew up hunting and collecting bush tucker while travelling on foot with her family throughout the vast Warlpiri country that lies between the Tanami and Gibson deserts. Her traditional nomadic lifestyle came to an end however when the Warlpiri, like other desert tribes, were forced to live a bleaker and more constricting lifestyle in the new government settlement. Much later, after ten children and difficult times of adjustment to the European lifestyle, the influence of those early years spent walking through the land of her ancestors burst forth in her art works; her principle focus being the women’s dreaming of Karnta-kurlangu and the land created by these ancestral beings. This Dreaming is principally connected to the women’s country at Mina Mina, west of Yuendumu and close to the large saltwater expanse of Ngayurru or Lake Mackay. It was here that the digging sticks emerged magically from the land, equipping a large number of ancestral women with both the tools for survival and of totemic power. The women proceeded to dance across the land, sometimes in single file, creating important sites, discovering plants, foods and medicines and establishing the ceremonies that would perpetuate their generative powers. The dancing women wore hairstring belts (Marjardi) and tassels rubbed with red ochre and fat to emphasise their passion and power. They danced with enthusiasm and great enjoyment. The potent life force with which they imbued the country is evoked in Judy’s love of colour and richly textured, drag-dotting style which traces the sinuous lines of dancing women crossing the country. Inter-related dreamings that Judy depicts are Ngarlyipi (Snake Vine), Yunkaranyi (Honey Ant), Jintiparnta (Native Truffle).
While the modern painting movement at Yuendumu was once largely associated with the murals painted by senior men on the school doors in 1984, women had been industriously involved in art and craft production for both financial and cultural reasons even prior to this event. Amongst the first to achieve recognition were the sisters Maggie and Judy Watson, who became Yuendumu’s most significant and successful female artists. Maggie died in 2004 and it fell to Judy to continue passing on the shared knowledge of their sparse and arid desert homeland. Judy’s specifically female Dreamtime stories provide a complex schema of human interaction with the land and a vibrant celebration of its underlying spiritual origins. From ancient times these stories have been passed on to succeeding generations of women giving instructions for both physical and spiritual survival in this challenging environment. This connection with the ancestors remains vital, Judy believed, even though the challenges faced by the Warlpiri people today have greatly changed.
The gender shift that has seen desert art developed and sustained by women artists, as opposed to once predominantly male artists, stems from a complexity of reasons. Before the 1980’s, art produced by women was often discounted as being less culturally important or simply decorative and supplementary. The bias of European male anthropologists had construed female Dreaming stories as secondary to the seemingly all-encompassing male creation myths. This was however, largely a matter of perspective as traditional Aboriginal societies considered female knowledge to be the other half of an indivisible whole. Through the 1980’s new political initiatives and the influx of women art advisors brought attention and resources to female artists. Experimental art and batik workshops for women were hugely encouraging and promoted a sense of creative freedom less encumbered by the ground rules put in place by the men to protect the emerging industry. The innovative approach attracted art buyers and their success encouraged more women artists across the desert communities. Following in the footsteps of her sister Maggie, Judy began creating paintings for Warlurkurlangu Artists in 1986. The extraordinary exuberance of her work with its unrestrained use of bright, sometimes clashing colour, splashed across the art world like the ‘Shock of the New’.
After Papunya, Yuendumu had been the second desert community to embrace the new art initiative. The artists of Yuendumu took to the new acrylic colours with an innovative spirit and became known for their use of ‘wild and inventive’ colour. For the Napangardi sisters, brilliant colour provided the means of activating the surface of the canvas and conveying the sense of animated movement. Thus introduced technology, rather than eroding cultural values, became a means of re-invigorating a centuries old spiritual connection to Country, consolidating the strong and resourceful Warlpiri identity.
Her works were included in group exhibitions from the early 1990’s onward at many important galleries most notably Sydney’s Hogarth and Coo-ee Gallery; Alcaston, Gabrielle Pizzi, and Sutton Gallery in Melbourne; Raft Artspace, Framed Gallery and Gallery Gondwana the Northern Territory; and Japingka and Indigenart in Perth. Yet despite having painted for almost two decades it was not until 2004 that Judy had her first solo exhibition for Alcaston Gallery and since that time they have featured the artist’s works continuously. Her work importantly graced the cover of the National Gallery of Victoria’s 2004 catalogue for the exhibition Colour Power - Aboriginal Art Post 1984 and since that time Judy had participated in a number of important print projects with Northern Editions and the Australian At Print Network; most notably the Yilpinji folio of Love Magic images by 15 Warlpiri artists from Yuendumu, Lajamanu and Balgo Hills.
Judy Watson was a widely acclaimed and highly visible artist. She divided her time between Yuendumu where she painted for the Warlukulangu art centre, and Alice Springs where she worked with a number of dealers including Peter Van Groessen who is married to one of Maggie’s daughters and Geoff Henderson who was during the last stage of her life the most prominent independent supporter of her art practice. Judy was unmoved and unaffected by the contemporary politics of desert art, happy in the knowledge that there were a number of places she could go and be paid well for her art thereby supporting her large extended family through the sale of her works. She simply did what she loved, applying electric colour fields in liquid paint on canvas. 'Painting makes me in touch with my ancestors,' Judy said, 'My country, painting holds them all there,' (cited in Genocchio 2008: 92). She passed away in 2016.
Ryan, Judith. 2004. Colour Power. Melbourne. National Gallery of Victoria.
Genocchio, Benjamin. 2008. Dollar Dreaming, inside the Aboriginal art world. Australia. Hardie Grant.
Lacey, Stephen. 26 June 2007. Powerful Voices of the Desert. Australia. Sydney Morning Herald (Arts and Entertainment).
Snake Vine (Ngarlyipi), Hair String (Mina Mina) , Water (Ngapa) , Womenâ€™s Dreamings, Edible Fungus, Native Truffle (Jindiparnta)
Printmaking, Synthetic Polymer Paint on Linen and Canvas