Australian art auction market as popular as ever

If Menzies latest auction results ( Sydney August 9) for its Australian & International Fine Art & Sculpture sale are any guide, the Australian art market continues to gather strength as well-known Australian and international artists are snapped up by buyers eager to cash in on their ongoing popularity.

Perhaps the greatest example of this was Andy Warhol’s Head after Picasso 1985 which was knocked down for $900,000 ($1.125 million with buyer’s premium).

The painting was picked up by a private collector in Luxembourg so will once more head overseas – but  plenty of the other works sold on the night will no doubt become treasured possessions in Australian collections.

The catalogue cover lot – Brett Whiteley’s The Dove and the Moon 1983 – is a typical example of how much the market has recovered since the 2008 global financial crisis.

At around that time (December 2009), the painting sold for $230,000 or $276,000 with buyer’s premium included.

The Sydney sale saw the work knocked down for $450,000, a testimony to renewed buyer enthusiasm for Whiteley’s paintings. Two of his other works painted on the same day in February 1976 – both entitled Female Nude – sold respectively for $22,000 and $16,000 on $20,000-$30,000 and $18,000-$24,000 estimates.

Jeffrey Smart’s Bus by the Tiber, which made its maiden appearance at auction, reached $700,000 – not much below its $750,000-$950,000 catalogue estimate – and when the buyer’s premium of $175,000 is added is certainly well within range.  

Celebrity art collector and comedian/satirist Barry Humphries would have been well pleased with the result of his Arthur Streeton self-portrait painted about 1890, which sold for $55,000 on a $40,000-$60,000 estimate.

Another artist to perform well was Del Kathryn Barton, whose current popularity saw even if it means the end of you 2010 change hands for $140,000 – well within its estimate range.

Interior designers Sandra and Peter Geyer offered 54 works from their substantial collection (including the first 20 lots of the auction) with lot 1 Jan Nelson’s Walking in Tall Grass, Olivia, 2006 striking an immediate chord, setting a new auction record for the artist of $15,000 on a $12,000-$16,000 estimate.

Later in the night another of their possessions, Rosemary Laing’s Ground Speed (Red Piazza)#5, 2001 (lot 83), was knocked down for $19,000 - $7000 above the top catalogue estimate.

Even abstract paintings by indigenous and non-indigenous artists sold reasonably with Sally Gabori’s Dibirdibi Country 2009 ($7000), Dick Watkin’s Escape 1984 ($9000) and Ken Whisson’s Factory Poplar Trees and Red Brick Church 1994-96 ($21,000) achieving respectable results.  

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