The Wall Street Journal’s Scene Asia blog got excited about today’s auction of Aboriginal Art at Bonhams (turns out the optimism was premature–only four lots reached meaningful prices) because Australia’s High Net Worth population is sitting on a strong currency:
“Bonhams has taken the decision to really go for it and to move into the Australian market very, very actively,” said Mark Fraser, Bonhams chairman in Australia. “It’s a great time to be selling.”
The auction house says it has received approaches in recent weeks by at least three owners of museum-quality Australian paintings in London and New York who are considering selling because of the appreciation of the Aussie dollar.
Australia’s high net-worth population — individuals with at least US$1 million in invested assets — rose 11% in 2010 as the country’s mining boom generated wealth for the Asia-Pacific nation, according to the Merrill Lynch Global Wealth Management and Capgemini World Wealth Report. Australia has the ninth largest high-net-worth individual population out of 71 countries surveyed.
But the increase hasn’t yet translated into an uptick in the art market. Year-to-date Australian art sales here are relatively small, at A$42 million so far this year, according to the database Australian Art Sales Digest. This figure could see a sharp increase with a number of art auctions scheduled for the next few months, including Bonham’s auction of significant non-indigenous Australian art on Aug. 22.
Australian art auction sales peaked at A$176 million in 2007 before halving to hit a low of A$88 million in 2009, according to Art Sales Digest. The market made a partial recovery last year, rising 17% to A$103 million. Rodney Menzies, chairman of rival local auction house Menzies Art Brands, estimates overall market sales will climb to about A$120 million this year.
Will Australia’s Rich Buy into Aboriginal Art? (Scene Asia/WSJ.com)