RDeutscher and Hackett offering will be first test of Aboriginal art market for 2012

by: Adrian Newstead   published: 22nd March 2012

Deutscher and Hackett will be the first of the major auction houses to launch its 2012 Aboriginal art offering. Its Important Aboriginal and Oceanic Art sale on April the 4th includes 163 items with an estimate range of $1.615 to $2.238 million. Eighty-eight percent of the items are Aboriginal and these account for 97% of the total sales value.

Arnhem Land bark paintings (15), traditional sculptures (13), and old artifacts (22) comprise thirty-one percent of the sale. These, along with the 13 paintings from Balgo Hills, 14 Kimberley works and 16 Papunya paintings impart a decidedly earthy and ‘traditional’ feel.

There are however plenty of contemporary paintings in the mix. Amongst these the most attractive are Lot 1, a striking and alluring work by Prince of Wales, and Gordon Bennett’s Notes to Basquiat: Cut the Circle 2001. The first carries a hefty estimate of $20,000- $30,000, while the later represents good value at $16,000-20,000.

The catalogue cover features one of two major works by the late Mt Leibig artist Bill Whiskey. This very contemporary looking work measures 182 x 271 cm and carries an estimate of $80,000-120,000 (Lot 17 ). Another slightly smaller and more labored work is estimated at $60,000-80,000. To my mind, this would seem to be better value.

Those looking for early Papunya boards will be sorely disappointed. The only example here is an inauspicious work by Johnny Warangkula (Lot 5 ). The presence of two detailed sketches by early colonial artist Tommy McRae (1830-1901) (Lots 7 and 8), however, add historical interest.

Lot 11, the most expensive work in the sale is by 2011 artist of the year Paddy Bedford. Though this work has limited visual appeal, Bedford’s, Paddy Cooley (Quilty) Story/ Emu Dreaming 1998 (Lot 24 ), resonates far more sympathetically with the best works by other Kimberley masters. This may struggle however at $50,000 to $70,000.

Bedford is an artist whose most successful works at sale have appealed to those with a contemporary eye, rather than dyed-in-the-wool Aboriginal art enthusiasts.

Among the other good Kimberley works in this sale are three by Queenie McKenzie (Lots 23, 30 and 31) of which Lot 23, Winnabun Springs, 1996 is the most interesting and represents the best value.

The sale includes no less than 13 works from Balgo Hills. The most important is the 91 x 61 cm Purrunga by the wonderful Milliga Napaltjarri. Though executed in russet toning (which limits its general appeal) this relatively rare work is worth every bit of its estimated value.

Amongst the 16 Papuyna Tula paintings and 7 paintings by market leader Emily Kngwarreye there are few of more than passing interest. Emily’s highest valued painting in this sale is the 120 x 90 cm Soakage Bore, (commissioned by Rodney Gooch in Alice Springs in 1990). Though a nice painting, with all the characteristics one expects of an Emily created during her second year with a brush, it is overestimated in value by at least 20%.

Overall, this is a solid, if stolid offering. There are few standout works here. Just 7 items are valued between $50,000 and $100,000 with only two carrying high estimates above $100,000.

In this regard Deutscher and Hackett's Aboriginal art expert, Crispin Gutteridge has shown wisdom. In this market there is little difficulty in securing sound works. The trick is to find gems, and then to force vendors to meet current market expectations. However the published estimates of too many works in this sale are way too high, given that there is also a 20% buyers premium payable on purchases.