12 October 2004

Aboriginal art in Paris: In your dreaming

A select slice of Paris’s art collecting elite gathered at elegant rooms on Avenue Matignon earlier this month for auction house Christie’s first-ever exhibition of Australian Aboriginal art. Thirty or so works on preview had been selected especially to tempt European tastes, pulled from 168 lots to be auctioned in Sydney on October 12. Last week another tranche of dots-and-dreaming lots from the sale went on view at Christie’s New York.
The sale itself represents a shake-up in the entire sector. With only sporadic competition, the Aboriginal art auction market has been virtually the personal fiefdom of Sotheby’s aboriginal art specialist Tim Klingender for almost a decade. But this year five different companies are conducting sales of Aboriginal art, with the French-owned Christie’s expected to snare the biggest slice of market share from its arch international rival.

2 October 2004

Deal Me In: Rex Irwin

Rex Irwin has been dealing in works by “important Australian and international artists” from his first floor rooms in Queen Street, Woollahra, since 1976. Irwin’s business is built around a stable of respected, mostly mid-career local artists, and a trade in works by some of the world’s most famous modernists, from Picasso, Hockney, Freud and Auerbach, to Australian icons like Fred Williams and John Brack.

Never lost for an opinion, Irwin is well placed to comment on the changes and trends that pervade Australia’s dynamic market for fine art. He spoke to Michael Hutak.

MICHAEL HUTAK: Can you tell us a bit about how you started in the game?

REX IRWIN: I learnt my trade back in the 1970s from Frank McDonald, who was a partner with Terry Clune in the old Clune Galleries at the Yellow House [in Kings Cross, Sydney] - Olsen, Whiteley and the rest of them showed there, but Frank would also put on shows of work by (highly regarded 19th century landscape painter) von Guerard before anyone had really noticed him. Frank eventually started his own gallery and was an old-style art dealer who would do things like travel to Paris to find long lost (Rupert) Bunnys from the paint shop where Bunny used to buy his paints. He was essentially repatriating Australian art.

MH: What’s the biggest change you’ve noticed since you started you own business?

Art Market Notebook, Spring 2004

Fierce competition heats up Aboriginal sector

Sotheby’s is moving to meet the challenge of competitors snapping at its heels in the lucrative and ever-growing market for fine Aboriginal art

It had to happen. After nearly a decade of stellar growth, Sotheby’s failed for the first time to set a new Australian turnover record for an Aboriginal art auction, at its 2004 sale in Melbourne on July 26. But it is a mark of NYSE-listed firm’s success in this collecting category that a sale that aggregates AUD$6.6 million* and sets 18 new individual artist auction records can be considered something less than successful.

At least there is a culprit to blame: the “million dollar painting” of Uluru by Rover Thomas, which, in passing in for just $675k, knocked a hole in the catalogue and cruelled the post-sale headlines for Sotheby’s aboriginal art specialist, Tim Klingender.