2 December 2003

Collectables: Wolfgang Sievers


The art market has finally realised it can no longer ignore 90-year-old photographer
Wolfgang Sievers, writes Michael Hutak

Collectors have been hearing for years that photography is "hot", and a stroll through any major international art fair will confirm that it has become the medium of choice, especially for younger contemporary artists.

Australia's art scene is overrun with snap-happy shutterbugs, with some, such as Tracey Moffatt, Rosemary Laing and Patricia Piccinini, making an impact in art world centres of gravitas such as New York, Venice and Cologne.

But do the sums match the hype? Is photography really a serious alternative for collectors looking to diversify away from, for example, the lucrative but monotonous trade in late-20th-century modernist painting?

"It is still possible to buy a good collection of photography for the price of a good painting," says Daniel Palmer, a critic and lecturer in the history of photography at the University of Melbourne. "But the real plus to emerge from the interest in artists such as Moffatt and Piccinini is that it has helped to establish traditional photography as a genuine collectable."

By "traditional", Palmer means "old-school" photographers such as Olive Cotton, Max Dupain, Lewis Morley or, as a case in point, the vastly under-appreciated 90-year-old Wolfgang Sievers, AO.

Born in Germany in 1913, Sievers studied at the Bauhaus and is revered as one of the most significant architectural -photographers to work in Australia, with many works in state archives, libraries and galleries. However, he has been ignored by the art market. Australian Art Sales Digest records show that in the decade to 2003, barely 10 works surfaced at auction, all selling for sums less than $1000. Or not selling at all.

Then, at Lawson-Menzies' Sydney auction in July, a 1959 silver gelatine photograph of a sulphuric acid plant in Hobart brought $2350 against an estimate of $900. The word was out by the time Sievers walked on crutches into Melbourne's Centre of Contemporary Photography to donate a 1986 print of a 1967 photograph for last week's charity auction to benefit the centre.

The auction, conducted by Christie's, was a runaway success, with 59 works by the cream of Australian photography garnering $79,360 for the CCP. Admittedly a paltry sum compared with the fine-art market but still vital signs of life for the 100 or so -collectors bidding at the sale.

And it wasn't a Moffatt or Piccinini that topped the sale but the Sievers, which fetched $8800 - an almost four-fold hike on the Lawson-Menzies sale.

-MICHAEL HUTAK

---



First published in The Bulletin,
2 December 2003, Volume 121; Number 48

16 October 2003

The Bulletin: Offshore artists come home to roost

If you want to know the most collectable emerging Australian artists, then look offshore first…

APART from Aboriginal art, which enjoys the support of both a thriving domestic and international market, Australia’s contemporary art market has been virtually hermetically sealed to foreign collectors: Australian contemporary art is almost exclusively collected by Australians, whether locals or expats.
This is despite the fact that most Australian contemporaries produce art which is international in terms of outlook and ideas, and lacks nothing in execution, ingenuity or inspiration when presented alongside the best international art. Yet barely a handful are well-known in the artworld’s hot spots like Manhattan, London or Cologne. In an age where artists have joined the ranks of celebrity, only Melbourne sculptor Ron Mueck, officially hot enough to be collected by billionaire tastemaker Charles Saatchi, has achieved anything approaching superstar status.
Yet tides can turn quickly and last week’s successful launch in Berlin of “Face Up”, an important group show of Australian contemporary art, added credence to recent claims that our living artists are starting to make a real impact in the international arena. Of course for Australians, acclaim abroad always resonates loudest at home, thus the canniest investors in Australian art today are looking for artists who are busy building reputations overseas.
A typical target is the postmodern painter John Young. Mid-career and on a roll, this Hongkong-born, Sydney-educated, Melbourne-based artist has just been picked up by a prestigious Berlin gallery, Pruess & Ochs. In the past year Young has had a sellout solo show with Sherman Galleries in  Sydney, and shows in Hong Kong, and Berlin, with yet another planned for next month at Anna Schwartz Gallery in Melbourne. Already in 2004 Young has solo shows lined up in Pirmasens in Germany, Sydney, Tel Aviv and even Bali. Group shows will take in Singapore, Beijing, Germany and Indonesia.
The auction market tells the tale. After barely a dozen works changed hands for small sums in the previous decade, at Deutscher~Menzies’ Sydney auction in March a work that cost $18,000 from Young’s 2001 show with Anna Schwartz sold for $32,900. Young’s dealers have crept up prices in the past year to $25,000 - $32,000 for an average-sized work to $60,000 for large works. Such sums are still quite low for European collectors, making work of Young’s quality a bargain, but they represent a trebling in the past five years on the Australian scene, and those who have been buying Young’s works for the proverbial song since the early 1980s must now be feeling very happy.
And perhaps a little vindicated.
 - MICHAEL HUTAK

First published in The Bulletin.

Collectables: John Young


If you want to know the most collectable emerging Australian artists, then look offshore first.


Apart from Aboriginal art, which enjoys the support of both a thriving domestic and international market, Australia’s contemporary art market has been virtually hermetically sealed to foreign collectors: Australian contemporary art is almost exclusively collected by Australians, whether locals or expats.

This is despite the fact that most Australian contemporaries produce art which is international in terms of outlook and ideas, and lacks nothing in execution, ingenuity or inspiration when presented alongside the best international art.

Yet barely a handful are well-known in the artworld’s hot spots like Manhattan, London or Cologne. In an age where artists have joined the ranks of celebrity, only Melbourne sculptor Ron Mueck, officially hot enough to be collected by billionaire tastemaker Charles Saatchi, has achieved anything approaching superstar status.

Yet tides can turn quickly and last week’s successful launch in Berlin of “Face Up”, an important group show of Australian contemporary art, added credence to recent claims that our living artists are starting to make a real impact in the international arena. Of course for Australians, acclaim abroad always resonates loudest at home, thus the canniest investors in Australian art today are looking for artists who are busy building reputations overseas.

A typical target is the postmodern painter John Young. Mid-career and on a roll, this Hongkong-born, Sydney-educated, Melbourne-based artist has just been picked up a prestigious Berlin gallery, Pruess & Ochs. In the past year has had a sellout solo show with Sherman Galleries in Sydney, and shows in Hong Kong, and Berlin, with yet another planned for next month at Anna Schwartz Gallery Melbourne. Already in 2004 Young has solo shows lined up in Pirmasens in Germany, Sydney, Tel Aviv and even Bali. Group shows will take in Singapore, Beijing, Germany and Indonesia.

The auction market tells the tale. After barely a dozen works changed hands for small sums in the previous decade, at Deutscher~Menzies’ Sydney auction in March a work that cost $18,000 from Young’s 2001 show with Anna Schwartz sold for $32,900.

Young’s dealers have crept up prices in the past year to $25,000 - $32,000 for an average-sized work to $60,000 for large works. Such sums are still quite low for European collectors, making work of Young’s quality a bargain, but they represent a trebling in the past five years on the Australian scene, and those who have been buying Young’s works for the proverbial song since the early 1980s must now be feeling very happy.

And perhaps a little vindicated.

---



First published in The Bulletin

25 September 2003

Collectables: Bonhams' Oz joint venture

A new joint venture aimed at grabbing a slice of the booming fine art auction market may struggle to get into the frame.

Breathless excitement greeted the news that UK firm Bonhams, founded 1793 and the world’s third largest auction house, will dive into the local market via a joint venture with Double Bay auctioneer Tim Goodman. “Our brief is to compete with the multinationals in this market,” said Goodman, targetting the world’s number 1 and 2 gavel bangers: NYSE-listed Sotheby’s and French-owned Christie’s.

Bonhams & Goodman have already opened new offices in Perth and Brisbane and Goodman has recruited no less than five former specialists from “Christoby’s” to kick start the venture.

Both Goodman and Richard Brooks, Bonhams’ UK chairman, cut their teeth in the collectible motor car trade. Goodman’s is already the local market leader in this area and also has a strong profile in jewelry and sports memorabilia. In the UK Bonhams’s strong suit is decorative rather than fine art.

Local skeptics doubt whether this latest foray by an international firm in the super-competitive, and now crowded Australian fine art market, can do much more than nudge the dominance of the “big three”: Sotheby’s, Christie’s, and the Australian-owned Deutscher~Menzies, which entered the market in 1998.

In the late 1990’s French-owned firm Phillips, de Pury & Luxembourg embarked on a similar quest down-under but failed.

Goodman argues that “the oldest firms are losing market share” in Australia, which is true but they have been losing it most spectacularly to D~M, owned by Melbourne cleaning tycoon Rod Menzies. And although the market itself has expanded to the spectacular tune of an average 10 per cent per year, the big three again have carved up the lion’s share.

According to Australian Art Sales Digest data, in 1992 almost $20 million in total sales of fine art was split roughly three ways between Sotheby’s ($6.9 million), Christies ($5.6m), and all “others” ($6.7m). A decade later, in a market now worth almost $80 million, and Sotheby’s ($23.5m) had increased sales four-fold, Christie’s ($18.2m) had more than trebled, D~M ($25m) had exploded in just five years, while “other” ($13.2m) had only doubled.

Goodman's still remains in the “other” category and while its annual "National Art Sale" has grown in 13 years to a respectable $1.75m in sales last July, the Bonhams joint venture will face stiff competition, not least on their home turf in Sydney from Menzies’s other firm, the new look, gung-ho Lawson~Menzies.

---



Abridged version published in The Bulletin

4 September 2003

Collectables: Rupert Bunny


Change in Tempo: Security and cleaning magnate John Schaeffer has gotten out of Australian art, but not quite while the going was good.

Schaeffer's sell-off last week of almost all his beloved Rupert Bunny’s, plus a couple of other out-of-fashion colonial-era artists was “a limited success,” says Sotheby’s Sydney painting’s expert, Geoff Cassidy. The sale draws a line under the greed-was-good 1980s boom in colonial and traditional art.

The fourteen lots fetched just AUD$1,016,700 - well below the low estimate for the sale of $1.5 million. Schaeffer and Sotheby’s were happy to offload most lots at below the auction house’s low estimate but the sale’s “hero” lot – Bunny’s 1985 Portrait of Jeanne Morel - failed to reach reserve and was passed in at $490,000. Schaeffer paid $500,000 for the work at the landmark Sir Leon and Lady Trout sale in 1989.

“The Trout sale was really the last big one-owner auction of the 1980s before the bust in the early 1990s,” says Cassidy. “Even though the market has well and truly recovered since then you’d have a lot of trouble getting the prices paid for most of those popular artists of the 1980s. The market is definitely moving towards the contemporaries at the moment, and it’s been difficult to sell top-end Bunnys for some time... We were quite happy to move them.”

Cassidy said that when Bunny was at the height of his popularity “John (Schaeffer) was driving the market quite hard and when you take such a major player out of the market it gets quite hard.”

Son of Melbourne Judge, Bunny (1865-1947) spent almost 50 years living and painting in Paris and even managed to get hung several times in the Salon of the late 1880s alongside the masters of impressionist painting. Bunny was a hot ticket in 1980s but in the last 10 years of the 327 works offered at auction 135 have failed to sell and of those more two thirds were offered – and rejected - in the last five years.

The sale was cannily marketed by Sotheby’s as merely a change in focus from Australian art to Schaeffer’s first love, 19th century English painting (he competes with Andrew Lloyd Webber as the world’s biggest private collector of Pre-Raphaelite Victorian art). This is no doubt the case for the super-wealthy, publicity-shy patron to the arts, but like any canny businessman the CEO of Tempo Services also had other reasons for the dispersal (don’t call it a fire sale!).

After a well-publicized split with his wife Julie last year, Schaeffer was forced to sell $7 million worth of his private-holding in Tempo’s stock. He told The Bulletin last November he would be selling off some of his magnificent collection to repurchase his holding.

"My love for this company is far greater than my love for my paintings," he said bluntly.

---



Abridged version published in The Bulletin

28 August 2003

Collectables: Art & Super Funds

Hanging offence: To hang or not to hang. That is the crucial question confronting today's super fund trustee, reports Michael Hutak

FINE ART has long been considered a legitimate asset class within the investment strategy of some of Australia's biggest superannuation funds. C+BUS for example, the building industry fund, counts its important art collection housed in regional galleries around Australia among assets of more than $3.5 billion.

But the most action in this area in recent years has been at the other end of the market, as private collectors rush to purchase art as part of their Self-Managed Superannuation Fund.

SMSFs have been the fastest growing sector of the super industry with approximately AUD$95 billion under management out of a total $530bn. The Australian Tax Office says SMSFs have grown by almost 25 per cent over the last three years to around 240,000 funds. It receives 1,000 new registrations each month and there are around 408,000 people with accounts, with an average balance of $234,000.

With the total secondary auction market in fine art in Australia at just $80 million per annum, the art trade understandably sees a great opportunity to grab a bigger slice of the estimated $10 billion that flowed into SMSFs during 2001-02.

The art market has a good story to tell potential investors: that $80 million already represents a quintupling of the auction market in just a decade. And headline-grabbing sales of telling of 100, 200 even 300 per cent returns for works by artists across all sectors of the market – traditional & modern, contemporary, and aboriginal art – make investing in art an easy, even sexy, sell.

Targeting the small investor, many galleries and art “consultants” are currently spruiking art in an SMSF as making “more sense than other assets in that you can hang it on your wall at home or office and have the visual pleasure of your own work of art.” One gallery’s web site even states: “It is a little known fact that it is perfectly legal to purchase investment artworks, acquired through your super fund, hanging on your wall at home.”

In fact this is not ‘little known’. It’s also not true. The big art-super push has hit a big snag called the ATO. “We’ve gone through this already with people trying to claim anything from Swiss chalets to Coles-Myer cards,” says Matt Frost, superannuation spokesperson for the ATO.

“The bottom line is yes, you CAN certainly invest in art for your fund, but when people ask us ‘can we put it on our wall’ the short answer is, ‘no you can’t.’”

Any investment for the purposes of a SMSF cannot contravene the so-called ‘sole purpose test’: it must only fulfil one purpose and that it is to provide a benefit on retirement. “And any investment that also provides any ancilliary benefit clearly fails the test,” says the ATO’s Frost.

Prominent Melbourne collector and art world accountant Tom Lowenstein isn’t taking the ruling lying down.

“I completely disagree with the Tax Office’s view and I’ve put a submission to them putting that case,” he told The Bulletin. “If the work has been bought for investment and fulfils the aims of the fund’s investment strategy then what does it matter where it is stored? My argument is the asset is just as safe on your wall at home as in storage, and is probably even safer.”

Lowenstein said cost of setting up even a small SMSF were not inconsiderable. With a modest investment of $100,000 “you’d still be looking at $2000 to $3000 in legal, accounting and auditing expenses. Add $5000 to $6000 per annum to insure and then store the works and you’ve probably wiped out any capital gains right there.”

Lowenstein argues, rather facetiously, that he is currently advising clients to either not hang their artworks, or to make sure they don’t enjoy them if they do. Which makes for a bizarre twist on an old adage: I don’t much about art but I know what I don’t like.

He predicts one of two outcomes to the controversy: “Either the ATO will back down, or it will be decided in the courts.”

---



Abridged version published in The Bulletin

14 August 2003

Collectables: Emily Kame Kngwarreye

The market aand experts differ on the value of early and late works by the legendary indigenous artist, Emily Kame Kngwarreye.

Undoubted highlight of last month’s bumper Sotheby’s Aboriginal art auction was the sale of the late great Emily Kame Kngwarreye’s 1991 canvas, Untitled (Spring Celebration).

Bidding on this sensual colour field of green, brown and yellow dots was the most competitive at the 560-lot sale, with four bidders on the phone and several dealers and collectors in the room vying for the prize.

The hammer eventually fell for a Swiss private collector who bid $463,000 – more than three times Kngwarreye’s previous auction benchmark, one of 17 saleroom records set for individual artists at the $7.4 million auction.

But what’s in a record? Are we to assume that this work was the pinnacle of Kngwarreye’s extraordinary achievement?

“These aren’t her best works in my opinion,” says Emily expert, Margot Neale, curator of Kngwarreye’s landmark 1998 national touring retrospective – the first ever for an Aboriginal artist.

“They’re very beautiful and there’s a quiet poetry about these early dot paintings,” says Neale. “But Emily didn’t pick up a brush until 1989, when she was in her late seventies. These works are only two years into her [eight-year] career," said Neale, now director of the First Australians Gallery at the Australian National Museum in Canberra.

“In my opinion Emily really came into her own with those looser, more gestural works of 1993-94, when she put all her verve and passion into it.

"She had enormous physical strength in her arms and hands from a lifetime of camel-driving and in the later works she really gives vent to that physicality on the canvas.”

The market begs to differ. But then the market judged at Sotheby’s corresponding sale in 1995 that a similar work to the new record breaker, Flowers of Alagura 1991, was worth only $2,300.

Meanwhile works from what Neale (and others) regard as Kngwarreye’s best period are still going for more modest prices of around $30,000 and up. Canny investors might look to what is called counter-cyclical buying and snap up these bargains while they last.

But, again, for those that buy for money there is always a downside – they will eventually have to part with a work of art whose aesthetic value is priceless.

---



Abridged version first published in The Bulletin

11 August 2003

Cox on Venice: Tear down my shack!

It's time for the Australian pavilion at the Venice Biennale to go, says the architect who designed it. Michael Hutak reports.
Prominent architect Philip Cox, fed up with snipes from the artworld, has declared he would support tearing down his "temporary" Australian pavilion in the elite Giardini della Biennale in Venice, the official venue for Australia's participation in the world's most prestigious artfair since 1988.
"I would be very pleased if the Australia Council or the Australian Government replaced that building because it is a temporary structure," Cox told The Age. "I am completely behind putting a permanent building there."
Currently occupied by Patricia Piccinini's critically-acclaimed suite of mutant sculptures, Cox's construction clings to a bank that falls away steeply to a canal, squeezed into a backlot behind the leafy, spacious environs enjoyed by the other 25 national pavilions. Australia was the last country to be granted a permanent pavilion.
Cox said the critics who "always moan about why we don't have something of the order of the French or the German or the English pavilions forget that it's a very cheap building put together in 10 minutes".
"They forget the whole project was virtually gifted to the Australia Council. We donated our services and we got BHP to provide the steel and Transfield to also provide materials. And on the record and to be perfectly frank, it gives me the f---ing shits considering we all worked so hard for nothing to put it there."
The 1988 Bicentennial project bears Cox's trademark prefabricated steel tubing, and might have made a luxurious split-level beach shack for a 1980s high flyer. But as a showcase venue for contemporary art, it routinely comes in for a biennial bashing as an almost unworkable space, one that dictates to the artist, not vice-versa. Wall space is cramped and large paintings are almost impossible to hang favourably. This year, Piccinini was praised for making best use of the difficult space by choosing to display three-dimensional work.
Cox concedes these criticisms, but says the artworld has short memories when it comes to the building's genesis. "The brief was - well, there wasn't a brief," he said. "The Venetians made it a case of either you fill the space quickly now or you'll miss out."
Cox then had a seat on the Australia Council's design board and realised that to be completed in time, the construction had to be prefab. The building permit was issued on May 25, 1988, and Arthur Boyd's show curated by Grazia Gunn opened less than a month later, on June 24. It then promptly closed for two weeks to allow builders to finish the roof, fit missing windows and repair the floor that had been covered by tarpaulin.
Several sources in Venice this year close to the Australia Council said official moves were underway to finally do something about the pavilion, however Australia Council chief executive Jenny Bott confirmed that the venue would remain unaltered for the 2005 Biennale at least.
"We need to develop a 10- year strategy for Venice," Bott said. The council spent around $900,000 on this year's Venice adventure, but Bott said "any capital expense would never come out of our budget".
However the Australia Council's temporary lease over the treasured block this year moved to permanent status, clearing the way for a complete rethink of the building.
In alternating years Venice's Architecture Biennale consumes the Giardini. However the Australian pavilion remains mothballed because, says the Australia Council, "architecture does not fall within (our) brief".
Under moral rights amendments in 2000 to the Copyright Act, any substantial changes to the pavilion would have to meet with the architect's approval.
Cox says he hasn't been approached by the Australia Council but would nevertheless give his imprimatur to a new, more suitable structure.
"I would love the opportunity to design it," he enthused, "but you'd need $10 million to do something decent and where would you find that sort of money for a single arts project in Australia today?"
---
First published in The Age

7 August 2003

Collectables: Cricket Tragics

Is Don, is not so good: Legend drives the market for items with a direct and personal connection to Don Bradman during his playing days

Nostalgia aint what it used to be – today it’s big business, especially if your name was once Bradman.

Like an artist who must expire before his works soar in value, the Don’s passing in March 2001 has ushered in an era of record prices for collectibles at one end of the scale, and rapacious trading of memorabilia at the other.

Christie’s London set the benchmark in June when Bradman's baggy green cap from the 1946-47 Ashes cricket series attracted a record auction price of AUD$88,835. And last month the prodigy’s most famous ‘baggy green’, worn in his final innings in 1948, was sold privately for an unconfirmed $425,000.

Christie’s Australian head of decorative arts, Richard Gordon, says the July sale should not be cited as a new benchmark for the Bradman market simply because it was so unique. “Given that he may have never had another chance to buy it, it was clear the purchaser was prepared to go to great extremes,” says Gordon. “It now seems very unlikely to come onto the market again in the near future.”

Gordon acknowledged that the market for such genuine collectibles – items that had a direct and personal connection to Bradman during his playing days – was being driven by the legend that has built up around the Don.

“These items are steeped in such history and the man himself seems to generate such divided passions in people – he is not universally loved.”

Tell that to the purveyors of the burgeoning market in mass produced memorabilia and limited editions. Bradman’s attempts to devalue his signature by flooding the market – it is well known he would sign anything put in front of him in an effort to ‘decommercialise’ it’s significance – has done little to dull the appetite of cricket fans for anything vaguely associated with their hero.

A random search at online auction house EBAY found 124 Bradman items up for grabs ranging from a signed bat - starting reserve $9,999 and purchased from “a close friend whose grandfather was said to have known [the late] Clarrie Grimmet,” - to a used 1996 paperback on the Don, asking price $2.

In between one can bid on still more bats and books, plus stamps, coins, posters, pewter and porcelain figurines, trading cards, coasters, balls, audio tapes, videos - even a “very rare” fork and spoon set.

Just $150 will open the bidding on a shop-soiled entry ticket to the Australian’s tour match against Surrey in 1934. Bradman made 61 not out that day. Talk about tragic.

---



Abridged version published in The Bulletin

24 July 2003

Collectables: Important Aboriginal Art

Aboriginal art continues to bring the bids and bouquets at Sotheby's in New York.

SCANDALS ASIDE, the Aboriginal art sector has been the most dynamic performer in last five years of Australia’s booming fine art market and Sotheby’s upcoming winter auction of Important Aboriginal Art has become the key barometer of the sector’s health. Each year the local franchise of the NYSE-listed company trumpets “the most valuable collection of Australian indigenous art ever assembled for sale”. Each year the boast is proved correct.

In 2002 Sotheby's shifted a record $5.1 million worth of precious paintings and rare artefacts. This year the 560 lots to be knocked down at Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art on July 28 and 29th have been pegged at an upper estimate of $9.69 million. With more than 20 lots listed with estimates above $100k, saleroom records will likely fall for the established hit parade of indigenous artists: Emily Kame Kngwarreye, Ginger Riley Munduwalawala, Alec Mingelmanganu, Johnny Warangkula Tjupurrula, Dorothy Robinson Napangardi and Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri.

However, this year’s indisputable highlight, the massive 5 metre by 8 metre Ngurrara Canvas 1, underlines the collaborative nature of much Aboriginal art. Painted in 1996 by 19 artists from the Great Sandy Desert to demostrate their Native Title claim to 800,000 hectares, it is valued between $300,000 and $500,000. Consigned by the artists themselves, it would look nice in a State gallery where everyone could contemplate its ongoing significance: the land claim is still in dispute.

After seeing off a brief challenge from rival auctioneer Deutscher-Menzies in the late 1990s, Sotheby’s virtually has the serious end of the market to itself. This year, with the war in Iraq casting its shadow, the firm’s Sydney-based Aboriginal art specialist, Tim Klingender, cancelled the traditional New York preview, but made up for it by scoring a front page article on the sale in The New York Times. This week (July 23) The New Yorker magazine publishes a similar glowing appraisal.

Sotheby’s prints around 4500 catalogs for the sale and despatches 500 in equal measure to collectors in Europe and North America. Klingender says there are around 100 serious private collectors who consistently bid for works worth more than $50,000, and only about 10 kindred spirits who can afford to wave their paddles at works worth more $500,000. “They are a disparate group of people,” he told The Bulletin, “mainly Swiss, French, Dutch and American. What they all usually have in common is that they’ve visited Australia at some stage and fallen in love with Aboriginal art.”

The record price for an indigenous artwork was paid not by a private collector but by the National Gallery of Australia, which went to $786,625 to secure Rover Thomas's All That Big Rain Coming From Top Side for the national estate, at - where else? - Sotheby’s 2001 sale. The firm has three more important ‘Rovers’ on offer this year with upper estimates scraping $350k. Yet, as The New York Times acknowledged: “The one group of Australian citizens rarely seen in galleries and salesrooms are Aborigines themselves, who are too poor to buy the products of their own culture.”

---



First published in The Bulletin

2 June 2003

Deal Me In: Stuart Purves


Australian Art Collector caught up with Australian Galleries' Stuart Purves in Rome, where the dealer was passing through en route to Tuscany where he planned to take possession of the latest raft of works from his octogenarian stable star, Jeffrey Smart.

STUART PURVES: I’ve come to Italy to honour Jeffrey [Smart], who’s in his early eighties now, and why not, we’ve been dealing with eachother for over a quarter of a century. I am a second generation dealer and I had two parents [Anne and Tam Purves] who were full-time art dealers. Believe it or not I’m the oldest continuing art dealer in the business. I can’t believe it coz I’m still young and that shows you how young the art world is in this country. But what it all comes down to that it is art before money. It really isn’t a business, instead you’re more like a leaf floating down the river, steering a course. There’s no real competition in the art world because everybody is in a sense heading in the same direction - to find that kernel of proper and inspiring art. There’s too much chasing of the money in it today. The money’s there, it’s always been there for good things–

2 April 2003

The 50th International Art Exhibition, Venice


Dreams and Conflicts - The Viewer’s Dictatorship
Curated by Francesco Bonami

Venice, Giardini della Biennale – Arsenale
Vernissage: 12-14 June
Official Opening: 14 June
Open to the public: 15 June to 2 November 2003

------

At 36 years of age, Melbourne-based artist Patricia Piccinini, five times named by this publication as one of Australia’s 50 most collectable artists, has achieved another career milestone with her selection as Australia’s representative at the world’s most prestigious art fair, the Venice Biennale.

While Piccinini will join an elite club of antipodean luminaries that includes Sidney Nolan, Arthur Boyd, Howard Arkley and Bill Henson, she will be attending an event rejected by Robert Hughes last year when he was offered the coveted director’s role. Such is its stature, Venice will again attract 250,000 patrons to the Biennale, but after a restructure of the event’s management, indifferent reviews for the 49th stanza in 2001, and intrigue in the upper reaches of the Italian government (which almost single-handedly funds the exhibition), all eyes are on newly appointed curator/director, superstar critic, Francesco Bonami, who returns from a brilliant American career to take the reins.

The world’s oldest survey of modern art began in 1895, and this year again consists of three distinct sections: (1) Bonami’s curated international survey of an estimated 130 emerging and established artists; (2) the international exposition of 30 national pavilions; and (3) the scores of satellite exhibitions, both official and unofficial, scattered throughout the city.

The epicentre, though, is the eastern end of the Grand Canal, where Bonami’s survey is laid out across an 14,800 sq.m. area within the 500-year-old shipyards and warehouses of the Arsenale and the beautiful leafy grounds of the Giardini di Castello, where the permanent national pavilions are. The Australian pavilion, designed by Peter Cox and owned and maintained by the Australia Council for the Arts, will be the context for Piccinini’s exhibition.

We Are Family, says Piccinini,“will explore the changing relationship between what is considered natural and what is considered artificial” - which promises to continue her deeply disturbing sculptural simulations of genetically-modified human life.

After a string of important international shows over the past two years, Venice should cement Piccinini’s reputation as the most exciting and challenging Australian artist to emerge in a generation.
The hottest ticket as usual will be the Vernissage - or preview period – the international artworld’s most powerful networking opportunity as 10,000 invited VIPs, museum directors, art dealers, collectors, curators and artists join 10,000 accredited critics and media for three days of serious celebration of art. In 2001 there were no less than 4,766 accredited journalists in attendance, including 63 TV crews. More than 5500 reviews were published worldwide.

While Venice is one of the world’s great destinations, there appear to be no guided tours or travel packages to its Biennale that originate from Australia. The Art Gallery of New South Wales, however, organises a tour of collectors to attend through its Contemporary Collection Benefactors program. The only proviso is you must be a CCB member - not a bad idea anyway, considering its core mission is to raise funds to buy works for the gallery’s permanent collection of contemporary Australian art.

IF you’re planning to visit the Biennale for the opening or its first month and haven’t booked your accommodation yet, then you’re too late – all the best accommodation for this festival is typically booked out six months ahead. This can however be a blessing in disguise as the visitor is forced to stay outside the heavily-touristed city in the Veneto region, where the accommodation is much better value and the distractions from art range from breathtaking Alpine ambience to the historical gravitas of towns like Padova.

First published in Australian Art Collector, Issue 24, April-June 2003


History Never Repeats: ADS Donaldson

Australian Art Collector, Issue 24, Autumn 2003

26 March 2003

Archibald 2003: Brush of the bushman

Geoffrey Dyer, Richard Flanagan,
oil on linen, 183 x 152.5 cm
The Archibald Prize went left field this year. Michael Hutak talks to the knockabout bloke from Tasmania who eclipsed a star-studded field. 

It was all a bit subdued at this year's announcement of Australia's pre-eminent art prize, the Archibald. For a start, convivial director Edmund Capon – who'd briefly become a NSW election issue when he took down the Australian flag from the Art Gallery of NSW in protest at the looming war – had been seemingly banished to a corner of the room instead of taking pride of place as MC on the podium.

Capon's void was filled by the earnest monotone of David Gonski, president of the AGNSW board of trustees, although we were assured the flag incident had nothing to do with Capon's "banishment". War, declared the day before, had quelled the media's customary boisterousness and Gonski's declaration of each winner – there are four in all, including the Wynn, the Sulman and a new photo-portrait prize – was greeted with dispersed gasps and muted applause followed by an exchange of polite but quizzical glances around the room: "Who?"

No darlings of the social set got the nod this year, nor did reclusive genii, enfants terrible or even idiots savant.

16 March 2003

New panel for safer racing - Sun Herald

16 March 2003 -- AFTER a rash of horrific race falls, Racing NSW stewards have formed a Riders' Advisory Panel designed to help young jockeys become better riders.
The panel will aim to correct mistakes and errors of judgment by apprentices and inexperienced riders, under the guidance of high-profile members.
"We believe this is a stepping stone to helping young riders move up the ranks by receiving advice as to how and why a certain incident may have happened and how to prevent it in the future," said Racing NSW chairman of stewards Ray Murrihy.
"Once one of our stewards pinpoints an error with a youngster's riding which needs to be addressed, we will then refer the rider in the company of their master to the panel for corrective advice.
"We have been discussing this at length with the NSW Jockeys' Association and, at this stage, members would include Malcolm Fitzgerald [Racing NSW apprentice Mentor], jockeys like Darren Beadman, and even some former riders.
"It is an exciting initiative and is likely to be much less traumatic for a youngster than having to face a panel of stewards."
Paul Innes, secretary of the NSW Jockeys' Association, welcomed the panels implementation.
"This is an excellent initiative... it will go a long way to improving safety in our sport."

-- Michael Hutak

First published in:

25 February 2003

Kelly's first stand

Heard the one about the expat Kiwi running a British film company using American money to make a film about an Irish revolutionary in Australia? Michael Hutak plunges into Kelly country. 


"Are you gonna whack Heath on the cover?" asks Tim Bevan, founder of Working Title Films and arguably the world's most successful independent movie producer. On the line from his London office, there is much more than just his new flick, Ned Kelly, to promote today.

But let's start with the movie. Starring Heath Ledger as the defiant one, Geoffrey Rush as his Victorian police nemesis and Naomi Watts as his lady love, Ned Kelly reunites the producer-director team of Tim White and Gregor Jordan that crafted Ledger's 1999 breakthrough hit, Two Hands.


11 January 2003

Collectables: Jeffrey Smart


Jeffrey Smart has virtually no market outside Australia, yet short supply keeps his work in demand

With his latest show at Sydney’s Australian Galleries another sellout, evergreen artist, Jeffrey Smart, appears at 82 years of age to be at the height of his powers and success. Netting almost $5 million in sales, the show comes hot on the heels of another record auction price: $439,450 for the 1990 work Near Pisa Airport, paid in late August at Christie’s sale of the BHP Billiton Collection.

Smart’s signature style – the industrial settings and motifs, the clean lines, bold colours and precise attention to composition – settled in when he left Australia in the late 1960s for the rural idyll of a Tuscan villa. From his studio there, for almost four decades, Smart has meticulously produced 20 to 30 major works per annum, feeding shows for his Australian dealers who can barely get their hands on works before they are sold.

Not too many investments outstrip Sydney real estate but Smart’s average price at auction has more than trebled since 1997.

Melbourne football identity, Sam Newman, kicked things along in 1998, blaming too much red wine when he paid a then-record $288,500 for Guiding Spheres (Homage to Cezanne) II at Christies Melbourne. The tabloids scoffed at the folly, but Newman, it appears, knew exactly what he was doing (or was acting on sound advice). The major touring retrospective of Smart mounted in 1999 by the Art Gallery of NSW sparked another jump in values and a minor rush on Smarts - 27 oils were offered at auction that year with only four unsold.

While they are a genuine blue chip investment, we are unlikely to see an glut of works by Smart filling auction catalogues any time soon.

Unlike, for example, Brett Whiteley (around 15,000 works) or Arthur Boyd (some 20,000), Smart’s lifetime output numbers only about 1000 major paintings. Exacting a rigid quality control, he has often destroyed works which, in his opinion, haven’t made the grade. Rarely does an inferior work reach the market. In the past ten years only 145 paintings have been sold on the secondary market through the auction room.

No more than 100 major works are in state or public galleries, the rest are held tightly by private collectors who typically would have bought them straight out of a show with his dealers.

The short supply has meant Smart has virtually no market outside Australia, yet he does have international standing. Global art auction data firm, artprice.com, rates Smart No.407 among the top 9,000 artists at auction, just below Mexican Frida Kahlo (402) but above the more-renowned contemporary Joseph Beuys (447) and venerable English master John Constable (436).

Today Smart enjoys his fame without paying the price. “I don’t really want to be well-known here in Italy, I’d like to lead my quiet life here,” he told The Bulletin when we visited recently. “It’s very thrilling to go back to Australia and find out you are Mr Famous.”

---



First published in The Bulletin