3 April 2004

Collectables: Dake Frank

Auction prices fetched by some Australian contemporary artists are rocketing. And those about to take off display obvious signs.

The hullabaloo over painter Tim Maguire hit the heights last November when Untitled 1997, a massive split-screen canvas, brought $329,000 at Christie’s Melbourne – the third time in 2003 that a new peak was set for Maguire's florid photo-realist visions. Just one year earlier Deutscher~Mennzies had offered a comparable work with an estimate of just $10k-$15,000 (it sold for $35,250).

The latest benchmark sent market watchers into overdrive: Maguire was the new John Kelly, who was the new Garry Shead, who was the new Bill Robinson, etc. Such headline-grabbing sales are more salacious evidence of art’s potential for a quick return-on-investment, and the cue for another tranche of cashed-up, dumbed-down, saleroom ingenues to turn up, grab a paddle and start splurging.

But those hoping to get a piece of “the next Tim Maguire” should also note that the savvy buy and sell on the way up, not at the top of the market. The time to pick saleroom sensations is before they become headline fodder. Maguire, however, did fit a model that made him ripe for reaping so here’s a quick checklist for pinpointing who’s next.

First, go for beauty over brains. Ugly doesn’t wash in the saleroom, no matter how much the critics might wax lyrical. Second, stick to contemporary artists, the market’s current growth area. Third, seek out artists in their late 30s and 40s with a good body of work behind them; those who have shown they can conduct a sustained professional practice. Fourth, opt for artists who have been on the critics’ radar for more than a decade but are still new or unknown to the saleroom, ie. those with less than 50 works offered at auction. And lastly, if you plan to hang the work awhile before moving it on, it helps to like it.

Still sound like too much work? Forced to tip, 45 year old Queensland-based painter, Dale Frank, fits the Maguire model to a tee. Ever-present on the contemporary scene for over 20 years, the prolific Frank shows with the country’s leading galleries and has impeccable critical credentials, with reams of favourable reviews, several monographs published, and a retrospective at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney in 2001 to boot.

Represented in every major state gallery collection, Franks’ luscious abstract works already bring vast slabs of colour to white-walled foyers and living-rooms from Kirribilli to Kew. Yet Australian Art Sales Digest records reveals just 47 works have ever been offered at auction.

However, again last November, Christie’s set a new artist record of $21,150 for a handsome 2 metre square painting. That was the jump on previous sales that canny collectors look for and it is a very attractive floor price for works that could easily climb to $100,000-plus without raising an eyebrow.

[For the record, I don’t own any of them.]


Abridged version published in The Bulletin

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