Sotheby’s Aboriginal Art sale brings in $2.8 million

Sotheby’s Aboriginal Art sale brings in $2.8 million
Emily Kame Kngwarreye, Summer Celebration (1991). Image courtesy of Sotheby's.

When the Gagosian Gallery opened an exhibition of artworks by Indigenous Australian artists earlier this year, it was probably the first time a number of people took note of those artists and their works. The exhibition also made headlines because an unlikely celebrity owned a number of the artworks on loan to the gallery: Steve Martin. Now, though, Sotheby’s has similarly highlighted the area of art with an auction of contemporary Aboriginal art, which brought in a sum of $2.8 million (£2.1 million), signalling that buyers are becoming much more interested in the genre.

The auction, which was held on December 13th at Sotheby’s New York, was unique as it showcased Aboriginal art outside of Europe or Australia for the first time. While Sotheby’s has held a handful of Aboriginal art auctions, they had never ventured into their US market in the same way as they did recently. After the auction, Timothy Klingender, a senior consultant for Australian art at Sotheby’s and head of the sale, stated that the sale was ‘a watershed moment for Aboriginal art, and an incredible introduction to auctions of Aboriginal art of this scale in the United States.’ Klingender’s sentiments seem on track for the sale’s outcome as 29 of its 33 lots were purchased. In the end, the sale saw an 88% sale through rate, several artists records set, and a higher auction total than what was estimated prior to the auction. Further signaling interest in Aboriginal art, a ‘large concentration,’ according to Klingender, of the bids came from new American and European bidders, though the auction attracted global attention, too.

According to Klingender, Sotheby’s chose to have the auction in New York to signify that the artists represented by the sale were of high value and the results backed him up. Summer Celebration (1991) by Emily Kame Kngwarreye, who is one of Australia’s most sought-after Aboriginal artists, took the top spot at the auction, as anticipated. The rhythmic pink and yellow dotted, large-scale painting sold for $596,000 (~£448,000; total includes premium), beating it’s $300,000 to $400,000 (~£225,000 to ~£300,000) pre-sale estimate. Gordon Bennett’s 1990 Self-portrait (But I always wanted to be one of the good guys) was a close second having brought in $437,500 (~£329,000) and also set a record for Bennett’s work. A work by Ronnie Tjampitjinpa titled Tingari Ceremonies at the Site of Pintjun set a record when it sold for $243,750 (~£183,000) and Yunpalara (Lake Blair) by the Kayili Artists community also sold for a notable $162,000 (~£122,000).

‘Australian Indigenous Art has always been of global interest, with buyers in recent London sales bidding from Europe, the Middle East, Asia, North & South America, and Australia,’ said Klingender prior to the sale. With recent exhibitions and this sale, it seems more and more plausible that the works of Aboriginal artists might are about to see a boom in the Western art market.

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