The end of this Financial Year once again presents an opportunity to reflect on the past 12 months, and to look forward to the exhibitions, auctions, and private sales in the year ahead. From my unique perspective, the market could not be in a stronger position than right now.


Let me explain why.

Emily Kame Kngwarreye, circa 1910-1996 | Alhalkere – Old Man Emu with Babies, 1989 | 152 x 122 cm | SOLD for US$819,000 inc. BP

At Auction

When Sotheby’s announced that its inaugural, annual ‘Important Aboriginal Art’ auction would retu

rn in May 2022, with viewing to be held during Contemporary Art month in New York, nobody could be more elated than me.

You may ask, with such strong competition forming, why that was the case?

With a lack of support at auction here in Australia, if anybody could help further increase international interest and sustained price growth in this critically important segment – it was industry stalwart Tim Klingender. And he did not disappoint.

Before we dissect the auction, when we consider the overall result, it is impressive. In a massive sale of 103 lots, 67% of works sold on the night for a total US$4,539,024.

I know I was not alone in questioning the number and diversity of artworks on offer. I believe a tighter more focussed selection would have helped the end result, but nothing can take away from the overall success and the exceptional individual results achieved.

Let’s take a closer look.

When an important, rare and previously unknown artwork is discovered, in any collecting field, it has the power to create waves in the industry. So, when the rare drawing and shield by William Barak was rediscovered in Switzerland, nothing could set this auction in motion stronger than a work such as this.

And when the artist’s Wurundjeri descendants publicly asked for its timely return home – all eyes were on Barak’s 1897 Corroboree – Women in Possum Skin Cloaks — and in-turn all eyes were on the auction, establishing a result and personal embrace that caught even me off-guard.

To the credit of the Victorian Government, they stepped in and bought these two important works for the Wurundjeri people. But if it weren’t for the many people in the background (you know who you are) advocating for the artworks’ passage of return, they may have been lost forever. I want to personally thank Wurundjeri elder, Uncle Ron Jones, for his trust in that historical moment.

The end result of US$378,000 (inc. BP) drew an ovation within the crowd and set the auction in full swing for the contemporary works to take centre stage. Contemporary art remains an important driver of the art market internationally, and none less so than for the working Indigenous communities of Australia.

Emily Kame Kngwarreye continued to eclipse all other artists in this collecting field. And when her pinnacle picture reappeared, having previously sold for a record price at auction in 1998, even I was sure the painting would sell well. For the astute connoisseur, the painting was simply a ‘must have’, and I was most pleased to secure it on behalf of a client in the US for US$819,000 (inc. BP).

Other exceptional results included the fine and large-scale work by Mick Namarari – Untitled 1990, which sold for US$302,400 against an estimate of US150,000-200,000 and Wimmitji Tjapangati’s Tjantji – near Jupiter Well 1991 which sold for an impressive US$100,800 eclipsing a record result of AU$100,000 that we achieved for the artist in 2020.

As previously mentioned, I did question a couple of decisions made in the construction of the sale. Were there too many paintings by Emily included in one auction? And should the artefacts be sold in another forum – like the Oceanic Department? The world has changed considerably in the last 5 or so years, and we must progress with it, albeit without compromise.

Setting that aside, it was a truly exceptional result. Both Tim and Sotheby’s should be congratulated, and I personally can’t wait for next year’s iteration.

At auction back home, things are slightly different. Local auction houses are lifting in line with the broader market – albeit more slowly. As previously indicated in past blogs, this can be attributed to several factors – a timidity by specialists when setting auction estimates, and an overall lack of quality stock on offer.

One auction house to buck that trend is Deutscher and Hackett’s ‘Important Australian Aboriginal Art’ which achieved a credible 87% of the more subdued 69 lots on offer sold for a total AU$2,585,373.

Now that’s starting to get real.

I encourage all local auction houses to continue to step up with their estimates, or risk losing further market share to their international counterparts. It really is that simple – snooze, you lose…

Private Sale

By utilising the strength of Private Sales, we have had an extraordinary year to say the least. 2022 was a clear bounce-back from the previous financial year with an annual record turnover for our company of over AU$12,711,107. Although this does not include all invoiced sales – some of which fall over into the next financial year – it is pleasing to know that we are on the right track to achieve our strategic goal and maintaining growth by sustainably giving back in 2023.

More on that in a later post.

As many of you witnessed, we used last year to open our new gallery space in the CBD and continue putting the right people in place to help support our anticipated future growth. I commend Ben Clark, our new Managing Director, for achieving that role placement and clear direction. Not an easy task.

And to the entire team at D’Lan Contemporary – Vanessa, Diane, Nicole, and Chloe – for each playing a most significant role in the company’s achievements thus far.

Before the move into the new gallery space, we relied heavily on the outcomes of our two annual exhibitions – Significant and Reverence. But with our newly revitalised program, we saw exceptional results achieved in curated exhibitions for John Mawurndjul, and off the back of a near sell-out for Reverence 2021, Paddy Bedford’s I am the Law – The Final Release generated over AU$3million in sales for the Estate. And our present focussed exhibition of 50 works — Significant 2022 has generated AU$2.8million in sales with over 70% sold in only a week after opening.

SIGNIFICANT 2022 | Until 29 July | D’Lan Contemporary Melbourne Installation View

January 2022 saw us exhibit EMILY, in another collaboration with Gagosian – this time in Paris. The exhibition was hugely successful – so much so, that we have been invited to exhibit in association with Gagosian again in October.

So, I will use this forum to plug this upcoming exhibition – if you have a significant work by Emily Kame Kngwarreye that you are considering selling, or if you would like an opportunity to be included in this unparalleled exhibition setting – contact me — directly to obtain a confidential appraisal and obligation free advice.

I look forward to hearing from you.

2022 saw some incredible events and milestones, not only for us, but more broadly for this segment of the art market.

The successful exhibition hosted in association with Philip Bacon Galleries in Brisbane, was a true honour for us, and should send a clear and important signal to the entire Australian Art market…

Institutional Exhibitions

Finally, it is so pleasing to see the incredible uplift in support from our leading National and State Institutions. Placing the art of our First Nations’ people at the forefront – and within the context of the art world today – should begin in Australia, right?

Here are several notable exhibitions ongoing and upcoming:

·      The National Gallery of Australia – 4th National Indigenous Art Triennial: Ceremony / Ever Present – National Gallery of Singapore

·      The National Museum of Australia – Songlines Touring Exhibition – Berlin

·      The National Gallery of Victoria – Bark Ladies (although now finished is still worth the mention) / Indigenous Art from the NGV Collection

·      Queensland Art Gallery of Modern Art – Transitions: The Transition of Aboriginal Art from the 1940s to the present (August)

·      Art Gallery of Western Australia – Tracks We Share: Contemporary Art of the Pilbara

·      Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory – 2022 Telstra NATSIAA (August) — I can’t wait!

·      Shapparton Art Museum – 122 Watercolours by Albert Namatjira and Family: A Gift from the Gantner Family

SUMMARY It is encouraging to see recent, regular media coverage reporting that the market for First Nations’ Australian art continues to strengthen and grow. Quite rightly, this is in part due to the tremendous exposure that important exhibitions such as Gagosian in Paris, and Sotheby’s in New York, provide.

EMILY KAME KNGWARREYE: DESERT PAINTER OF AUSTRALIA | 21 January – 12 March 2022 | GAGOSIAN Paris Installation View

The market for this incredible work is remarkable and wondrous to navigate. To generate future sustainable growth in the realigned global position for our exceptional First Nations’ artists and their broader working communities – it must remain fluid and unbridled.

During NAIDOC week – a time to recognise, learn more about and celebrate the history, culture and achievements of the oldest, continuous living culture on earth – we once again call on our colleagues to help generate an industry-wide shift, and to support sustainability in this sector by giving back to the artists and their working communities.

Read more about how you can support NEIVA, here.