AKA Djungarai, Maantja, Lungkarta, Lungkada, Lungkata
15 Career Overall Rank
34 2016 Market Rank
Shorty Lungkarda did not begin painting until late in 1971. While he was an important and respected tribal leader he was not one of Bardon’s close confidants, having arrived some time after the first artists began painting and being unable to speak English. His works were first exhibited in Alice Springs and while they bear Stuart Art Centre catalogue numbers they are not accompanied by handwritten notes or schematic outlines prepared by Bardon specifically for each painting. Only two of his 1971 works have come up for auction and, being his very first attempts in an unfamiliar medium, they do not bear comparison to those created in 1972 and later. His works have only appeared in Tier I auctions on 63 occasions and approximately ten of these are repeated offers. No lots appeared for offer at auction in 2010. Two appeared in 2011 but both failed to sell. In 2012 the artwork Big Cave Story, 1972 achieved the artists sale record price of $216,000. Sotheby's had offered the work at a pre-sale estimate of $180,000-220,000 in its June Important Aboriginal Art sale.
Since 2012 only one important work has been offered and it had appeared at auction on two previous occasions.The untitled 1972 work first appeared at Sotheby's in 1996 and sold for $36,800. It appeared again in 2000 and sold for $68,500. This appeared as the artist's 9th highest record at the beginning of 2016 but was relegated to 10th when Sotheby's handled it for a third time setting the artist's 5th highest record at $107,213.
Lungkarda died in 1987 before a number of his contemporaries rejected traditional iconography in favour of a more abstracted spare picture plane thereby turning away from the style developed with Bardon in the early 1970s. Shorty’s own works, therefore, are valued principally on the strength of their iconic imagery, which emulated his tribal authority and status. In common with the majority of artists of his generation most of his top selling works were created during 1972 however, significantly, a 1974 work shares his equal second price of $123,500. Tingari Ceremony at Ilyingaugau 1974 sold in Sotheby’s June 2000 auction (Lot 36) equalling a record that was established at Sotheby’s as early as 1997, for an untitled 46.5 x 53 cm board. This 1972 work while quite minimal in style is so unique and striking that once seen it is not easily forgotten. It is one of the few artists record prices that have stood unchallenged throughout almost the entire of the last decade, eclipsed only in 2009. The 1974 painting is a large work on canvas measuring 169 x 102 cm featuring a complex overlay of dotted concentric circles that emanate a powerful and mesmeric three-dimensional effect.
A wonderful, iconic, and ethereal work, Water Dreaming 1972, achieved his sixth highest price to date of $103,700. This 58 x 41 cm board sold in Sotheby’s June 1997 sale (Lot 19). Only one additional painting has sold for more than $100,000, Women’s Dreaming 1972 is a powerful iconic image with an appeal that lies in the bold depiction of the two women softened by an unusual layout of communicating dotted strings. Measuring 64 x 46 cm, this was sold by Sotheby’s in June 2002 (Lot 71).
In those cases in which a work has be re-presented at auction and failed to reach its generally increased reserves, the reason seems to lie with the imagery or poor execution. One particular case in point is a work entitled Children’s Story 1972. While the image is interesting, it is not the artist’s best and failed to reflect the tremendous growth in the market during the period between 2000 and 2005. It originally failed to sell with a pre-sale estimate of $30,000-50,000 in 2000 and when Sotheby’s auctioned it again in October 2005 with the increased estimate of $80,000-120,000 it was once more passed in. Once more offered in 2009 at the pre-sale estimate of $50,000-70,000 it failed yet again (Lot 55). It found its way, however, into the superannuation fund of Melbourne uber dealer Bill Nutall who offered it for a fourth time (this time through Bonham's reinvigorated Aboriginal art department) in May 2012 carrying an estimate of $40,000-60,000. Finally it sold for $45,600, making it the artist's 12th highest result at the time.
Regardless of this, Shorty's best works will continue to rise in value. There are so few of them. More satisfying results for the owners were the $32,300 increase in value over the purchase price in 1995 for a very pleasing and unique 40 x 33 cm 1972 board sold in Sotheby’s June 2000 auction (Lot 35), and the increase in value from $8,050 in 1999, to $21,600 for a 1980 work when sold at Sotheby’s in July 2006 (Lot 89).
Untitled 1972 fetched $168,000, and held the artist's record between 2009 and 2012. It had an impressive pedigree having belonged to Margaret Carnegie and been included in a number of prestigious exhibitions including Lauraine Diggins' A Myriad of Dreaming in 1989 as well as the important Australiana Moderna e Contemporanea e Arte Aborigena in Milan during 2002. The work displayed the same fragile veiling of white dots against an ochre dark background as is seen in the other stellar pieces of this period. Notably it had been offered by Sotheby’s previously in 2004 with a higher estimate of $100,000-150,000, but had failed to attract a buyer on that occasion. Perhaps it’s request for inclusion in a forthcoming show Origins at the National Gallery of Victoria to celebrate their 50th anniversary added to the work's allure.
Clearly Shorty’s results in the secondary market are dominated by his 1972 works of which 18 have sold from the 27 offered. Only one of the four 1973 paintings have found a new home with poor clearance rates also recorded for paintings produced in 1976 and 1977. Shorty's career clearance rate has hovered around 60% since 2008. Few, if any, paintings created after 1980 have appeared on the secondary market despite the artist death as late as 1987. Sotheby’s have achieved all ten of the artists highest results with Bonham's success in finally selling Children's Dreaming at $46,600 being the highest achieved by any others. Lawson~Menzies best sale is the $31,200 achieved for a 1978 Tingari Men board sold against a pre-sale estimate of just $14,000-16,000 in their November 2006 sale. This was the artist’s 12th highest sale at auction (Lot 117) at the time but continues to be usurped and by the end of 2016 it was 16th.
Shorty Lungkada was one of the foundation artists of the Aboriginal art movement. His most emblematic early images with their powerful iconic content will continue to be both highly desirable works of art and Blue Chip investments which should grow in value over time.
As one of the ‘new Pintupi’, arriving amongst the last of the nomadic groups to the enforced resettlement community of Papunya, Shorty Lungkarda, a senior hunter, dancer and respected tribal leader, only joined the painting movement in 1972. Although he arrived toward the end of Geoffrey Bardon’s time there, and moved out to Yayayi with other Pintupi just a year later, so palpable was his authority that, more than five years later in 1977, art advisor John Kean recalled being ‘overwhelmed’ in his presence. ‘I had never met anyone like this before …he (Shorty) spoke softly but insistently in Pintupi, always maintaining direct eye contact’ (Kean 2000: 221). Lungkarda’s previous experiences with white people had been limited to groups of documentary makers whom he had met and guided through his homelands in the Western Desert. Speaking little English, he relied on others to translate for him. He was in a kirda/kirdungurlu relationship with Nosepeg Tjupurrula who was of the same age and communicated with Bardon through him and his friend Johnny Warangkula.
From the very outset, the bold visual simplicity of his artistic compositions conveyed an elemental power, and he became one of the select group who were granted a government allowance that enabled them to paint full time. Geoff Bardon (1991) recalls how the painting room that was established at Papunya resounded with laughter and animated discussion or at times became intensely concentrated in a sea of silence as the men poured their love of their distant homelands into their work. Lungkarda worked ‘impervious to disturbance’, the seriousness of his intention animating each dot.
Money earned from painting circulated through the community, adding to its overall resources, and returning status to these venerated leaders. Lungkarda’s ceremonial knowledge and tribal seniority played an instrumental role in consolidating the ‘classic’ Pintupi style. It later provided the bedrock for future and less formal developments. The main subject was Tingari, the central creation myth shared across the distances and differences of Western Desert tribal groups. Tingari is the most important teaching myth, used to initiate the younger generations through revealing their social identity and spiritual inheritance. This knowledge is objectified and elucidated through a deep relationship to the land. After a period of artistic experimentation, including important decisions about which subjects could be revealed to a wider and uninitiated audience, a consistent and recognizable style emerged. A non-rigid grid of circles symbolise sites that are drawn together and connected by meandering lines of ancestral travel. Areas of background dotting accentuate landscape contours and are also used to conceal aspects of a story that are too sacred to reveal. The basic earth colours of the ‘Papunya palette’ were adopted as the general rule, with an amazing variety of hues being mixed and produced.
Fred Myers sensed the authority of Lungkarda and other elders during an incident in which a young man was held responsible for a car accident. The young man sat outside the circle of conferring elders, downcast and ostracised by his community; the gravity of the situation played out through time and distance. Slowly, he was drawn in and allowed to participate in the group’s painting activities that continued all the while alongside the discussions. 'A passage had occurred,' writes Myers, 'he now knows who will look after him when he is in trouble' (2002: 71). The restoration of the social and spiritual fabric of the dislocated Pintupi, people became enmeshed with the new forms of art making. Painting allowed them to affirm their identity and pass on their Dreamings to the next generation even though they were hundreds of miles from their traditional sacred sites. Eventually, money earned from painting allowed them to return west to their homelands and set up the outstations of Kintore and then Kiwirrkura. Lungkarda was an assertive leader in the ‘outstation movement’ and continued painting from Kintore where he settled with his family in the early 1980’s.
For various reasons during the early years, painting was restricted to men only. However, Lungkarda’s adopted daughter, Lynda Syddick Napaltjarri, gained valuable experience and skills assisting him. Women’s painting was soon to emerge as a significant creative force and, under Lugkarda’s guidance Lynda Syddick emerged, according to Myer, to become the ‘first Pintupi modernist painter’. By the time she was established as an artist of renown in the early 1980’s her work was the first to give voice to the changing influences that fed into the younger generation 'less driven by the protocols of the elders’ (Myers 2002: 304).
Shorty Lungkarda’s work remains one of the foundation stones of the entire Western Desert art movement. Without the deep connection to the ancestral powers, reformulated and consolidated through his knowledge, determination, and intrinsic talent, contemporary Australian art would be very much the poorer.
Bardon, G. 2004. Papunya: A Place Made After the Story: The Beginnings of Western Desert Painting Movement. Victoria. Melbourne University Publishing.
Bardon, Geoffrey. 1991. Papunya Tula; Art of the Western Desert. Australia. Penguin.
Perkins, H & Fink, H. 2000. Papunya Tula, Genesis and Genius. Sydney. Art Gallery of New South Wales.
Myers, Fred. 2002. Painting Culture, The Making of an Aboriginal High Art. Durham and London. Duke University Press.
Johnson, Vivien. 2008. Lives of the Papunya Tula Artists. Australia. IAD Press.
Johnson, Vivien. 1996. Dreamings of the Desert, Aboriginal Dot Paintings of the Western Desert. Adelaide. Art Gallery of South Australia.
Sandy Blight Junction , Kintore, Inindinya, Yei Yei , Yanunkatjanya, Lampintjanya
Kangaroo, Possum, Tingari , Snake , Blue Tongue Lizard, Bush Banana, Bandicoot, Dingo, Goanna, Rock Wallaby , Love Story, Two Women (Kunga Kutjarra), Water
Synthetic Polymer Paint on Linen and Canvas, Powder Pigment on Composition Board