17 April 2001

Saleroom’s Lot

An auction market in contemporary Australian art appears assured after the French-owned international auction house, Christie’s, conducted its second successful sale in the emerging category in Melbourne last week.
Bidding was brisk and competitive with a respectable 70% clearance rate on the 131 lots, which ranged in estimate from $1000 to $180,000.
Top selling lot at $99,875 was the late Rosalie Gascoigne’s ‘Lantern’1990. Other winners on the night were collectors of Brisbane conceptual artist, Robert Macpherson, whose ‘Scale from the Tool’ 1977 set a new saleroom record for the artist of $70,500, confirming his rank among Australia’s senior living artists.
Other artists to post strong sales include Ken Whisson ($49,350), Imants Tillers ($44,650) Robert Hunter ($32,900) and Dale Hickey ($32,900)
With few dealers or museum curators active, Christie’s Head of Contemporary Art, Annette Larkin, said buyers at the sale were predominantly younger, private collectors. “We also had a several successful bids from ex-pats in South East Asia - young lawyers and bankers earning US dollars in Hong Kong and Singapore who were eager take advantage of the exchange rate.”
The sale aggregate of $918,000 was, according to Larkin, “excellent, considering several big ticket items didn’t sell”. She said the total compared favorably with the $1.2 million achieved at Christie’s inaugural contemporary sale, held in Sydney last August.
The poor performing items were works by Howard Arkley, whose prices had skyrocketed since his untimely death in 1999. The formerly buoyant market for the artist’s airbrushed, day-glo images of suburbia took a stumble when four of five lots failed to meet reserve.
Arkley’s ‘Eastern Suburbs Pink Home’ - the sale’s ‘hero’ lot - was passed in at $130,000 against a low reserve of $150,000, however prominent Melbourne gallerist, Anna Schwartz, believes the correction was long overdue. “Howard would be turning in his grave if he knew his works were being passed in at that figure, but we can see the market for his work is in the process of correcting itself.”
Some dealers have been critical of Christie’s foray into their territory but Schwartz was supportive, saying the sale was “the best advertisement commercial galleries could get. Not enough of the art-buying public are knowledgeable about contemporary art – auctions like this educate them.“

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First published in The Bulletin

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