Tapestries Weave Magic at NAB Art Sale

When Silver spotted the extensive tapestry in the Leonard Joel catalog, he thought to himself “one of my clients has got to buy it.”

“It was so striking,” said Silver, who has been in the art business for more than half a century.

John Coburn’s tapestry, Bushfire, c. 1976, sold for $70,000 (hammer), more than double its high estimate, at the NAB Collection auction at Leonard Joel on Wednesday February 23.

“When you’ve been in the game as long as I have, you have an instinct on certain works. I just thought, this is insanely good. It’s hard to imagine anyone who wouldn’t enjoy this job.

The exuberant tapestry, woven from wool, cotton and shimmering lurex, is classic Mora, combining elements of folk art, childish whimsy and Chagall-inspired surrealism. Mora’s husband, prominent Melbourne gallerist Georges Mora, was NAB’s first artistic adviser and it was he who encouraged the bank to commission tapestries from artists who had never worked in the medium.

Some of these tapestries were among the most contested works last Wednesday, including two by John Coburn, Bushfire, ch. 1976, sold for $70,000 (hammer), more than double its high estimate, and sun of arabia1976, which fetched $55,000 (hammer) from a high estimate of $40,000.

Jeff Makin’s tapestry from 1979, Port Campbell, from the coastal town of Victoria near the famous rock formations of the Twelve Apostles, soared for $30,000 (hammer) against an estimate of $6,000 to $8,000. It was also an auction record for the artist. Interestingly, an oil painting by Makin of the same composition sold for $28,000 (hammer).

Jeff Makin’s tapestry Port Campbell, 1979, fetched $30,000 (hammer) from an estimate of $6,000-8,000 at the NAB Collection’s Leonard Joel sale.

Two other creations from the Victorian Tapestry Workshop, those of Lesley Dumbrell Snakes and Ladders, 1979, and Jan Senberg west melbourne, 1979, also exceeded their estimates to sell for $26,000 (hammer) and $24,000 (hammer), respectively. Leonard Joel applies a buyer’s premium of 25% GST included to the hammer price of each lot.

Tapestry buyers ranged from current collectors of the medium to those drawn primarily to artists, to others who were new to the medium but had been captivated by the tapestries in the NAB collection.

“The fact that tapestries are seen more in people’s private collections, and that they are in vogue in home decor, makes them quite desirable, so this has also encouraged people to consider them for their art collections more than they would have 10 or 20 years ago,” Fuller said.

Sculpture is another medium gaining momentum, as confirmed at the NAB sale with the sensational performance of Greg Johns’ corten steel work. In the center there is nothing (2009), which sold for $75,000 (hammer), more than nine times its high estimate of $8,000.

“I had no less than 15 people a day asking me about this sculpture…so I knew there would be a lot of interest,” Fuller said. “He is a remarkable sculptor and his work is rarely sold at auction.”

Greg Johns’ sculpture In the Center There Is Nothing (2009), sold for $75,000 (hammer), more than nine times its high estimate of $8,000 at the Leonard Joel sale of the NAB Collection.

Measuring 130cm by 130cm, the sculpture is a scale model of a larger work which is in the public collection of the McCelland Sculpture Park + Gallery in south-east Melbourne. It also set an auction record for the artist.

“When it’s something with great provenance, it’s a rarity at auction and by a desirable artist, there’s almost no limit,” Fuller said.

Other records include the following (all prices are hammer price):

Judy Cassab, red desert1972 – $70,000 (estimate $6,000-$9,000);
Paul Partos, The flow1992 – $36,000, (estimate $12,000-$18,000);
Jasper Knight, They called me Psycho2012 – $17,000 (estimate $7,000-$9,000);
Catherine Hattam, Light Green Pink Armchair2002 – $15,000 (estimate $2,500-$4,500);
John Rowell, In the land of red gum1940 – $15,000 (estimate $1,500-$2,500);
Peter Neilson, play on words (The Journalist), 1998 – $13,000 (estimate between $4,000 and $6,000);
Deborah Russell, angel’s window1989, – $13,000 (estimate $1,500-$2,500);
Sarah Tomasetti, Milford Sound III2002-03 – $11,000 (estimate $4,000-$5,000);
Darren Wardle, Gecko Gate1999 – $11,000 (estimate $4,000-$6,000);
Marion Borgelt, ancestral spirit1988 – $10,000 (estimate $6,000-$8,000);
Stephen Haley, Double echo1996-97 – $9,500 (estimate $5,000-$7,000);
Ashley Jones, On the Edge – Red Chair1978 – $9,000 (estimate $1,500-$2,500);
Wendy Stavrianos, Spirit Gates1975 – $5,000 (estimate $3,000-$5,000);
Marc Galea, Cadmium Cadmium2007 – $4,000 (estimate $2,000-$3,000).

The NAB Collection will continue to give, with another set of works to be included in the Leonard Joel Prints and Multiples sale in April, and a key work slated for the Centum Contemporary Art sale in May.

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