Aboriginal standouts should hold their value
July 17, 2009 12:00am
SOTHEBY'S Aboriginal art sale on Monday night is likely to see prices equal those of earlier sales of white-fella art this year.
That means a discount of 20 to 30 per cent on the prices that were being paid before the global credit crunch.
But, as with European art sales, the best paintings hold their value while the middle to lower end drops away.
Buyers in the boom were too willing to pay prices that did not reflect real worth.
But Sotheby's Aboriginal art sale at its Melbourne gallery in Armadale has some standout works. There are paintings by Rover Thomas and Emily Kame Kngwarreye and Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri.
There is also a huge two-metre by five-metre canvas by sisters Jukuna Mona Chuguna and Ngarta Jinny Bent.
It was painted in France during the Biennale de Lyon in 2000 and relates to land claim paintings.
The paintings show ownership, a pictorial deed, in this case of 10 big waterholes in Walmajarri country in the Great Sandy Desert.
Strangely, the colours have strong greens and blues and look like Caribbean art but they are the colours surrounding waterholes or springs that form an oasis.
It makes the painting unique and should attract a bid from one of the national galleries with an estimate between $80,000 and $120,000.
The NGV, in particular, will surely take an interest in Corroboree by William Barak.
King Barak, as he was known, was born before European contact and retained his tribal culture in spite of being converted to Christianity.
The 60 x 75cm drawing, using pencil and natural earth pigments, shows Aborigines wrapped in possum skin cloaks facing a dancing troupe clapping time with boomerangs.
It was an era when official government policy was to "smooth the pillow of a dying race".
Barak, a handsome man as we see by an accompanying photograph, lived with other Aborigines near Healesville in Victoria and was referred to as "the last of the tribe".
Poignantly, as described in the catalogue notes, a list of Christian gospel readings is stuck to the back of the drawing: The Anointing of our Lord, Our Lord's Entry into Jerusalem, The Last Supper of our Lord, The Agony of our Lord, The Betrayal of our Lord, among others.
This remarkable piece of cultural history has a photo of William Barak taken in 1895.
He is wearing white fella's clothes and sitting in a chair on a verandah, his hat and his dog beside him.
It emphasises an unimaginable gulf between two cultures.
Corroboree has an estimate of $180,000 to $250,000.
The Sotheby's auction also has paintings with excellent provenance and realistic prices that will attract buyers from $3000 to $10,000.
When: Monday, July 20 from 6.30pm.
Where: Sotheby's Gallery, 926 High St, Armadale.
Viewing: Friday to Sunday from 11am to 5pm.