Sotheby’s will relocate its Aboriginal art sales from London to New York in November, becoming the first international auction house to offer Australian indigenous art outside Australia or Europe. The move comes amid increased global interest in this field of collecting, says Timothy Klingender, the auction house’s senior consultant for Australian art.
Klingender said that Sotheby’s newly reimagined and expanded galleries in New York would allow it to exhibit Aboriginal art concurrently with its contemporary art sales, capitalising on an “ideal crossover market”.
He notes a growing institutional focus on Aboriginal art in the US, including major touring exhibitions from the collection of Debra and Dennis Scholl that were presented at such venues as the Phillips Collection in Washington, DC. Other examples include the Harvard Art Museums’ 2016 show Everywhen: the Eternal Present in Indigenous Art from Australia, and the Menil Collection’s forthcoming exhibition Mapa Wiya: (Your Map’s Not Needed): Aboriginal Art from the Fondation Opale, set to open in September.
Among the highlights of the November sale, which will range from historical pieces to post-colonial contemporary works of art, Sotheby’s will offer two early large-scale dot paintings by the Australian indigenous artist Emily Kame Kngwarreye, including Summer Celebration from 1991 (est $300,000-$500,000) and an untitled work from 1990 (est $250,000-$350,000).
Sotheby’s launched its Aboriginal art category in 1997 at its Sydney outpost, where sales were held until 2009 before being introduced in London from 2015 to 2018. The auction house set the sales record for an Aboriginal work of art by a living artist in London in 2016, when Michael Nelson Tjakamarra’s Five Stories (1984) brought £401,000, exceeding its estimate of £150,000 to £200,000. In the same sale, Benedict Munkara’s Untitled, Male and Female Figures of Purukapali and Bima (around 1925-1978) set the record for an Australian indigenous sculpture, netting £251,000 (est £30,000-£50,000). In previous sales, the auction house also achieved records for an Australian indigenous artefact and bark painting.