Aboriginal Rashomon

Chuguna/Bent painting

Bloomberg makes a case that Sotheby’s Aboriginal Art sale is sign of strength. But the sale came in at the low estimate even with commissions. The sell-through was 63% suggesting that Sotheby’s wasn’t following the policy that seems evident in the European sales of ensuing high sell-through rates as an indicator of renewed market stability:

The largest painting at the sale, a five meter long synthetic paint on canvas painting in vivid red, green, yellow and blue by Jukuna Mona Chuguna and Ngarta Jinny Bent depicting waterholes around the artists’ homeland, called “Wayampajarti Area,” sold for A$88,800, within its estimate of A$80,000 to A$120,000.

“It’s good value per square inch,” Klingender said of the painting, which was used to support a land rights claim. “By doing these huge paintings they were able to illustrate their connection to their country, to the judges and the Australian government, and thus got their land title back.”

The works sold from the collection of Schaeffer, who was named one of the U.S.’s biggest art collectors by Vanity Fair magazine in 2006, fetched A$465,800, according to Sotheby’s, from a presale estimate of around A$1 million.

Four works from his collection of eight remained unsold, including one of the two pieces with the highest estimated auction price: Rover Thomas’s 168 centimeter long “Massacre Site – Old Texas Downs,” painted with natural earth pigments and bush gums on linen, estimated at A$180,000 to A$250,000.

Adrian Newstead, former head of Aboriginal art for Australian auction house Lawson-Menzies, said Sotheby’s has been able to boost its influence in an art market that’s come “off the boil” as other auction houses departed the market.

“Sotheby’s has the market basically to itself and they’re finding it is quite easy to persuade vendors that their interests are best served by reasonable estimates,” he said. “Art is just like real estate, people out there are wanting to corner the best paintings, knowing they can sell them for far more than what they paid.”

Sotheby’s Aboriginal Art Sale Recovers From Post-Lehman Low (Bloomberg)