RSotheby’s Aboriginal Art Result is Better than it Seems

by: Adrian Newstead   published: 13th June 2011

On results alone you would be forgiven for thinking that D’Lan Davidson’s second Aboriginal art sale was a failure. The Directors of Sotheby’s Australia have, however, a great deal to be happy about.

Davidson is young (mid 30’s) and is set to carry Aboriginal art auction sales in to the future. He is building a new department and a new client base from scratch, following Tim Klingender’s defection to Bonham’s with his entire Aboriginal art team.

In his first sale for Sotheby’s (November 2010) Davidson offered works worth $1.6 to $2.4 million of which 32% sold by lot and 37% by value. This June 2011 catalogue contained art and artefacts worth $2.3 – 3.1 million of which 40% sold by volume and 50.2% by value. Seen in this light Davidson has every reason to be pleased.

He achieved a number of significant results. Lot 2, a small but accomplished work by early colonial artist Tommy McRae set a new auction record for the artist when sold for $72,000. The work had previously sold at Sotheby’s in 2001 for $35,700. And the significant Men’s Dreaming (1971-1972) by Tim Laura, formerly in the collection of Patrick Corbally Staunton, sold for $162,000 setting the artist’s second highest record at sale.

Davidson also achieved new high water marks for Utopia septuagenarians Poly and Kathleen Ngal. He set the equal second highest price ever for Maningrida bark painter Ivan Namariki: the 3rd highest record for Papunya matriarch Makinti Napanangka, NE Arnhem Land’s legendary Mathaman Marika and Balgo’s Boxer Milner: and the 5th to 6th highest results on record for a host of others including Paddy Bedford, Peter Maralwanga, Kitty Kantilla, Thancoupie, Suzie Bootja Bootja and Mick Kubarku.

His most significant failure on the night was the sale of only two of seven highly desirable Hermannsburg watercolours And while Paddy Bedford’s Biriyalji-Fish Hole 2006 estimated at $100,000-150,000, (illustrated on the cover of the catalogue) sold for $120,000 not one of the three works by Emily Kngwarreye found a buyer on the night.
Davidson had considerable success in selling many of the noteworthy artefacts. Twelve of the first 14 lots sold including a number of beautiful old shields. Though it failed to sell on the night, the very fine Darling River Broad Shield (Lot 5) sold the following day for $26,400.

All things considered, given the current market mood, it was not a bad result. Sotheby’s Australia is in a rebuilding phase. It should be very pleased that it has bedded down a department that was formerly its Australian flagship until gutted by defections. The quality of its offering and its improving result would indicate that Davidson is just the right person to rebuild confidence in its brand.