Sotheby’s will relocate its Aboriginal art sales from London to New York in November, becoming the first international auction house to offer Australian Aboriginal art outside Australia or Europe. The move comes amid heightened global interest in this area of collecting, said Timothy Klingender, the auction house’s senior consultant for Australian art.
Klingender said Sotheby’s newly redesigned and expanded galleries in New York would allow it to exhibit Aboriginal art alongside its contemporary art sales, capitalizing on an “ideal crossover market”.
He notes a growing institutional focus on Aboriginal art in the United States, including major traveling exhibitions of Debra and Dennis Scholl’s collection that have been shown at venues such as the Phillips Collection in Washington, DC. Other examples include the Harvard Art Museums’ 2016 exhibition Everywhen: the Eternal Present in Indigenous Art from Australia, and the upcoming Menil Collection exhibition Mapa Wiya: (Your Map’s Not Needed): Aboriginal Art from the Fondation Opale , which is scheduled 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 first large-scale dot paintings by Indigenous Australian artist Emily Kame Kngwarreye, including 1991’s Summer Celebration (estimated at $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 ran until 2009 before being introduced to London from 2015 to 2018. The auction house established the record selling Aboriginal artwork by an artist living in London in 2016, when Michael Nelson Tjakamarra’s Five Stories (1984) fetched £401,000, beating its estimate of £150,000-£200,000. In the same sale, Benedict Munkara’s Untitled, Male and Female Figures of Purukapali and Bima (c. 1925-1978) set the record for an Australian Indigenous sculpture, fetching £251,000 (est between £30,000 and £50,000). In previous sales, the auction house has also hit records for an Australian indigenous artifact and a bark painting.