ROut With the Old and In With the New

by: Adrian Newstead   published: 26th November 2009

Sotheby’s had many reasons to feel pleased, despite the sale total at hammer price falling around 30% short of the low estimate total, for its November Aboriginal and Oceanic Art Sale.

In the absence of pizzazz, their finest ethnographic pieces performed strongly and were enhanced by the sale of an early 1971 board by Johnny Warangkula Tjupurrula’s Water and Tucker (Lot 78) for $150,000, and a fresh to the market untitled work by William Barak (Lot 5) that achieved $144,000, more than double its presale estimate.

The sale got off with a bang with $90,000 paid for an early South Eastern Australian broad sided shield (Lot 1) that achieved three times its high estimate, however only Tommy Watson’s Kukutjara 2003 (Lot 71) and two works by recently deceased Mt. Leibig artist Bill Whiskey exceeded $70,000 amongst the contemporary works on offer.

Excellent paintings by Emily Kngwarreye and a number of Papunya men all sold below the low estimates in a sale that played largely to Sotheby’s strength in museum quality artifacts and pieces that preceded the contemporary art market.

The report this week that under Tim Goodman’s ownership, specialist Tim Klingender, given a sensible transition period, will join Justin Miller, Georgina Pemberton and other staff in severing their connections with the company was no surprise.

It has been quite obvious for some time that Klingender’s focus has been distracted as the heat has flown from the market and his young family has grown. The appointment of D’Lan Davidson as his successor is enlightened and will be welcomed by all of those who have worked with him over the years. He is highly personable, well liked, and being at least 10 years younger than Klingender, represents generational change. His contacts with tribal dealers and collectors internationally have enabled him to become a primary source of fresh museum quality pieces during the last decade.

Though he has been a very useful dealer, discretely supplying work to a variety of sales,  his primary interest is as a collector with as passion for tribal art. As such he is ideally positioned to continue Sotheby’s dominance of the ethnographic sector of the market. If he has any shortcoming it is in his knowledge of the contemporary arena.

 His clients in this area are limited and, at least initially, he will require assistance from Anne Phillips and Geoffrey Smith and other Goodman’s (now Sotheby’s) specialists in building sources and clients to hold on to market share in an area that is currently languishing due to the downturn and an overheated primary market. These circumstances will however change in time.

With his appointment Sotheby’s will have a new, more youthful and enthusiastic Department that complements the company’s ‘changing of the guard’. The transition period is ideally timed during the current sluggish market. By the time Davidson has his hands firmly on the wheel he will be ideally positioned to catch the winds of change and keep Sotheby’s firmly ahead of the fleet in Aboriginal, Tribal and Oceanic art sales.

Tommy (Yannima) Watson

AIAM Rank 29 AIAM Rating 5.3629

William (King Billy) Barak

AIAM Rank 9 AIAM Rating 8.6923
Untitled by William (King Billy) Barak
William (King Billy) Barak

32.4 x 46.5 cm

Kukutjara by Tommy (Yannima) Watson
Tommy (Yannima) Watson 6

140.5 x 175 cm

Water and Tucker by Johnny Warangkula Tjupurrula
Water and Tucker
Johnny Warangkula Tjupurrula

76 x 91 cm