Piermarq Director Rob Russell has been quoted in The Australian Newspaper today, 7 September 2013.
‘Aboriginal art thrives at Top End of market’
The Australian Newspaper
By Amos Aikman, Northern Correspondent, Darwin
MENTION Aboriginal art these days and you’re likely to hear a lot of doom and gloom. The global financial crisis, Labor’s resale royalty scheme and its changes to superannuation really knocked the bottom out of the market, dealers say. But not the top, it seems.
In galleries around the country, high value works, often large ones, are selling swiftly. “There’s a bevy of artists whose work is trading at prices above what we saw prior to the downturn — I would say at record prices for these artists in private sales,” Rob Russell, director of Piermarq Art Advisory in Sydney, says.
Respected art valuer Brenda Colahan thinks sales have improved markedly in the past six months. “The top end is finding a market, perhaps privately, not at auction,” she says. The most popular works tend to be by elderly desert artists, people who grew up in the bush before contact with Western civilisation. “People recognise there’s a direct association between these works and a culture that’s 40,000 years old and potentially coming to an end,” Russell says.
Ken McGregor, an author and art adviser, argues many of the best paintings now being produced are monumental or very large. “Everything is on a big scale out there in the desert,” he says. “There’s something expansive that really lends itself to huge work. “Some of these paintings are really breathtaking.” McGregor curated a show of works by the desert artist Tommy Watson at Metro Gallery in Melbourne, including one five-metre piece priced at more than $800,000.
One of the biggest proponents of monumental works is Chris Simon of Yanda Aboriginal Art, who represents Watson and looks after him while he paints. “The downturn during the GFC was probably the best thing that could’ve happened to my business,” he says. “It got rid of all of the small dealers who encouraged artists to paint more than they were capable of doing to high quality.”
He says he has since been able to coax the best artists to produce fewer, larger works that he hopes will provide a cultural record. There has long been a tension between private dealers such as Simon and the government-run art centres that dot the outback and keep many artists employed. Desert Mob, a highly regarded exhibition of work primarily from art centres, opened in Alice Springs this week. Art centre works tend to dominate competitions and public gallery shows.
McGregor says even though many art centre operators are his friends, he thinks they don’t always focus enough on quality. “The best work is really being produced outside art centres,” he says. Dealers say most of the top end works, selling for prices from $10,000 to $130,000 and up, are going into private collections in Australia and overseas. McGregor thinks more should be going to institutions.
To read the article on The Australian‘s website, click here.