Australian Art Market 08 Review Part 1 –

Australian Art Market 08 Review Part 1 –

drysdale2008 was a rather interesting year for the Australian art market with results for the first half of the year giving the impression that, for the time being at least, the market for art in Australia was set to continue it’s bull run albeit at a less frenzied pace.  One of the most celebrated (and over-rated) sales of the year took place in June when the Sydney based auction house Deutscher-Menzies sold Picasso’s “Sylvette” for AU$6.9 million which was the most expensive painting ever sold at auction in Australia.  The identity or location of the overseas buyer was not made public but is rumored to have been a collector from Russia or another European country. Menzies was quoted as saying “It’s a historic day for Australia in the sense that a very significant international picture by the greatest artist of the 20th Century was sold at an Australian auction for a record price”.

Had “Sylvette” been purchased by an Australian (in Australia) buyer I might have been impressed but all the sale of “Sylvette” proves is that Deutscher-Menzies were willing to spend plenty of money on marketing the work ($20,000 apparently). The previous record for a work of art sold at auction in Australia was Australian artist Brett Whiteley’s “The Olgas for Ernest Giles” which sold for AU$3.48 million in 2007. The top price paid for a work of art by a non-Aboriginal Australian artist in 2008 was $1,890,000 for Russel Drysdale’s “Rocky McCormack” which was sold by Sotheby’s in August.  The top price paid for an Aboriginal work of art in 2008 was $360,000 for Emily Kngwarreye’s “Earth’s Creation II 1995” sold by Deutscher Menzies in December.

Although some evidence of a slightly more cautious art buying public began to appear as early as March the Australian art market appeared to be in relatively good health until about August when things began to take a turn for the worst.  The August round of auctions were particularly bad leaving no doubt that the Australian art market was beginning to experience a correction.  Clearance rates for the August sales were extremely disappointing with Sotheby’s only able to muster a clearance rates of 50% and Bonhams and Goodman only able to manage 49%.  A few positive sales and some new auction records for several artists did, however, provide some optimism heading into the end of the year.  If only that optimism could have been converted into sales.

to be continued…..

iamge: Rocky McCormack by Russell Drysdale

**Nicholas Forrest is an art market analyst, art critic and journalist based in Sydney, Australia. He is the founder of, writes the art column for the magazine Antiques and Collectibles for Pleasure and Profit and contributes to many other publications.

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