RValuable Lesson for the West in eclectic Bernadt Aboriginal Art Sale

by: Adrian Newstead   published: 6th September 2010

Dr. Ian Bernadt is a voracious Aboriginal art collector whose love and dedication to his vocation is matched only by his unbridled excitement for his passion. With a lack of room to display the more than 500 works he has collected over the past 20 years, the vast majority have lain impenetrably stacked along walls throughout rooms at his home and surgeries, still wrapped in the bubble pack they were delivered in.

His desire to have the works seen led him to begin donating many of his finest pieces to a number of Western Australian institutions. These have included including the Art Gallery of Western Australia, and Murdoch, Edith Cowan and Curtain Universities. And recently he rather reluctantly decided to offer more than 200 pieces for sale through Mossgreen auctions.

Amongst the major works in the Ian and Sue Bernadt Collection single vendor sale held in the soon to be demolished Tea-rooms at Randwick Racecourse on Monday 30th of August were a number by artists foremost in the movement. However the offering in general was extremely eclectic with a heavy emphasis on West Australian works from many of the newer community art centres and a large number of paintings from other regions that are characterized by strong colour and naive imagery.

Of the major lots Emily Kame Kngwarreye’s early 1990 untitled canvas (Lot 20) measuring 152 x 122 cm and estimated at the bargain price of $40,000-$60,000 sold to Sydney art consultant Annette Larkin for $51,009 including buyers premium. The work had been on loan to the Art Gallery of Western Australia through the 1990’s, as had another Kngwarreye work, Stripes 1995 (Lot 24). This work went the same way for $31,577.

Rover Thomas’s Some Places I have Been (Lot 19) carried an extremely low estimate of $30,000–40,000 and represented superb value having been painted for Waringarri arts just prior to the artist’ death in 1998. It achieved $46,151 incl. BP when hammered down to Sydney collector and art entrepreneur Leo Christie.

The work illustrated on the cover by Paddy Bedford (Lot 18), carried Jirrawun arts and Martin Brown, Sydney provenance. While being a dramatic and thoroughly modern work it lacked the textural qualities and emerging pink hews that characterize his most successful works at sale. Measuring 122 x 135 cm this dramatic and thoroughly modern work sold to a phone bidder against two others in the room for $57,081 incl. BP.

Mossgreen offered all lots at prices that more than met the current market. Reserves were extremely low, yet the failure of the large number of W.A .works was telling. Amongst the 101 pieces that failed to sell on the night 31 had been created in communities located on the AYP lands to the immediate west of the tri-state boarder. Here paintings are distinguished by a tendency toward gestural application and a highly colour charged palette.

When added to a further 21 colourful works with a naive sensibility by the likes of Peggy Jones, Sambo Burra Burra, Gertie Huddleston and Long Tom Tjapanangka, along with those with similar aesthetic appeal by Mangkaja, Balgo Hills , Bidyadanga, and Ikunji artists this number swelled to comprise more than 70% of the failures on the night.

On first viewing, the results of this sale were indicative of an over hyped primary market in which gallery prices are out of kilter with the real value of art works. Many pieces sold at prices well below their purchase price and others failed to sell regardless of how deeply the reserves were cut. This is consistent with the result achieved for similar works at sale through other auction houses during the last 3 years. It is certainly a sobering reality that should be heeded by the large number of predominantly West Australian collectors currently besotted with recent art movements in remoter regions of their state.

Only 39% of lots sold on the night generating $537,000 or 49% of the total value on low estimates ($1,093,000 including buyers premium). However within a day of the sale Mossgreen specialist Shaun Dennison had sold further 20 lots thereby lifting the success rate to 50% by volume and 53% by value. A hard nights journey in to day!!

Emily Kame Kngwarreye

AIAM Rank 1 AIAM Rating 37.3548

Rover (Julama) Thomas

AIAM Rank 2 AIAM Rating 24.5084

Paddy Nyunkuny Bedford

AIAM Rank 6 AIAM Rating 11.7530

Long Tom Tjapanangka

AIAM Rank 118 AIAM Rating 1.5553

Ena Gimme Nungurrayi

AIAM Rank 179 AIAM Rating 1.0749

Alma Webou

Untitled 1990 by Emily Kame Kngwarreye
Untitled 1990
Emily Kame Kngwarreye 12

152 x 122 cm

Cockatoo - Fig Tree Hole 2000 by Paddy Nyunkuny Bedford
Cockatoo - Fig Tree Hole 2000
Paddy Nyunkuny Bedford 2

122 x 135 cm

Places I've Been 1996 by Rover (Julama) Thomas
Places I've Been 1996
Rover (Julama) Thomas 9

100 x 140 cm

Stripes 1995 by Emily Kame Kngwarreye
Stripes 1995
Emily Kame Kngwarreye 12

179.5 x 70 cm

Untitled 1990 by Ena Gimme Nungurrayi
Untitled 1990
Ena Gimme Nungurrayi

101 x 50 cm