Auction Results: record prices for artists

We are delighted to report the sale last week of two significant artworks that we brokered through Deutscher and Hackett Specialist Fine Art Auction House.

Rah_Fizelle This work “Seated Woman”, 1932 – 33, a previously unknown portrait by Rah Fizelle came with an estimate of
$ 45,000 to $ 65,000 and sold for $ 93,000 including buyer’s premium – an auction record for this great modernist artist.

John_Peter_Russell The much reviewed and admired work, also a portrait, by John Peter Russell of American artist William Dodge Macknight c 1887, estimated at $ 200,000 to $ 250,000 sold for $ 228,000 including buyer’s premium. The previous highest price for a portrait by J.P. Russell at auction was “Madame Russell aux Amandiers”, sold with Christies in 1997 for $ 90,500.

Exhibition: The Guggenheim Collection: 1940s to Now

Whilst in Melbourne we were fortunate enough to visit the National Gallery of Victoria and view “The Guggenheim Collection: 1940s to Now”, on until 7th October 2007.

If you are in Melbourne, we thoroughly recommend a visit. You will get to see an impressive selection of stunning contemporary works by the masters of it.

Look out for some knockout works. Standouts for us included

  • a very early “splatter” painting by Jackson Pollock
  • the sculptures by Alberto Giacometti
  • two enormous works demonstrating the painterly skill of Jeff Koons, even if you don’t like the subject matter, they are very impressive
  • a superb video installation with five screens running simultaneously Matthew Barney’s Cremaster Series

Most importantly, I should draw your attention to the exhibit, which most affected me – it is by Marina Abramovic, a performance artist who began her career in the early 1970s. She describes herself as the “grandmother of performance art”. The exhibition there is a still from her most famous performance “Rhythm O, 1974”.

“To test the limits of the relationship between performer and audience, Abramovic developed one of her most challenging (and best-known) performances. She assigned a passive role to herself, with the public being the force which would act on her.

Abramovic had placed upon a table 72 objects that people were allowed to use (a sign informed them) in any way that they chose. Some of these were objects that could give pleasure, while others could be wielded to inflict pain, or to harm her. Among them were scissors, a knife, a whip, and, most notoriously, a gun and a single bullet. For six hours the artist allowed the audience members to manipulate her body and actions.

Initially, members of the audience reacted with caution and modesty, but as time passed (and the artist remained impassive) several people began to act quite aggressively. As Abramovic described it later:

“The experience I learned was that…if you leave decision to the public, you can be killed.” … “I felt really violated: they cut my clothes, stuck rose thorns in my stomach, one person aimed the gun at my head, and another took it away. It created an aggressive atmosphere. After exactly 6 hours, as planned, I stood up and started walking toward the public. Everyone ran away, escaping an actual confrontation.” (Daneri, 29; and 30) (Source and quoted in: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marina_Abramovic).

To something lighter: Jean Tinguely’s “White Moving Forms on Black Background” from 1957. We both like Tinguely’s humorous, ironic works in all forms, moving, cranking, shuffling, working away without aim or sense. Unfortunately, the one exhibited at the NGV doesn’t actually move. We looked around the back and could see a perfectly fine power cable and a plug. When we asked a couple of security guards why it wasn’t plugged in, they informed us that it didn’t have an Australian plug fitted. A bit of a lame excuse, as adapters are widely available… Having seen many works by Jean Tinguely working in Switzerland, it’s a shame – but maybe we should regard it as just another twist in Tinguely’s art… Anyway don’t miss the show if you are in Melbourne, as it is not going to any other place in Australia.

Auction Preview: more interesting offerings

This brings us to the latest offering from Deutscher-Menzies and Lawson-Menzies Fine Art Auctions, on Wednesday 12 September and Thursday, 13 September, in Sydney.

Keeping with the theme of the masters of contemporary art, Deutscher-Menzies’ lot 25 by Damien Hirst is something of a rarity in the Australian auction room, although we are used to seeing his screenprints. With his “Diamond Skull” selling last week for $ 120 million (yes, $ 120 million, a record for a living artist), it is perhaps very good timing for this synthetic polymer paint on canvas work with the vague estimate of $ 60,000 to $ 100,000.

The most interesting Perceval to surface in a long time is lot 30, titled “Adam and Eve with garlic plant”, 1955. I look forward to seeing this work in the flesh as it were – estimates of $ 160,000 to $ 200,000, and deserves to do well.

I am always saying how much I prefer the 1960s work of Jeffrey Smart to any of his later work. There are two later works in the Deutscher-Menzies catalogue, but the cover lot in the Lawson-Menzies sale is to me much more appealing: lot 234, Campbell Street, Sydney, 1963, is a most interesting work, with estimates of $ 300,000 to $ 360,000.

Of course, it will be interesting to see how the two big ticket items do: Lot 36, Brett Whiteley’s “Orange Fiji Fruit Dove”, 1983, estimates $ 1,250,000 to $ 1,750,000 and lot 37, Frederick McCubbin’s “Childhood fancies” from 1905, with exactly the same estimate. Our money is on the Whiteley doing better than the McCubbin. What do you think?

The star lot of the night is lot 38, one of the most important Fred Williams’ works to enter the market: “Landscape with Water Ponds”, 1965-7, a big work from his best period, with an estimate of $ 1.4 to $ 2 million.

I remember this Howard Arkley painting very well from the retrospective at the Ian Potter Centre in Melbourne where it was on exhibition until February this year. This particular series of works I thought outstanding, and I like them much more than his exterior works: lot 41, “Roomrite”, 1992 – 3, estimate of $ 200,000 to $ 240,000. This work deserves to do extremely well.

Lot 64 “Pastoral”, by Arthur Streeton from 1930, looks rather poetic and seems to hark back to earlier times, estimates $ 100,000 to $ 150,000.

Anna Eggert’s stainless steel mesh dress, lot 201, is an interesting first lot in the Lawson-Menzies sale, estimate $ 12,000 to $ 16,000.

Photographic enthusiasts might get excited at a number of early prints from Max Dupain, Henri Mallard and Harold Cazneaux with low estimates from lows of $ 1,000 to highs of $ 6,000.

And please take also note of some other exquisite works at the lower end of the estimate scale:

Lot 313, Adrian Feint “Banksias”, 1954, estimate $ 3,000 to $ 5,000

Lot 318, Emma Minnie Boyd, “Water’s Edge”, 1907, estimate $ 2,500 to $ 3,000.

Lot 433, John Loxton “The Ski Explorers”, estimate $ 2,000 to $ 4,000

And last but not least:

Lot 442, John Brack “First daughter”, 1954, estimate $ 4,500 to $ 6,500

Written by

David Hulme

David Hulme is an approved valuer for the Australian Government's Cultural Gifts program and a member of the Art Consulting Association of Australia. David Hulme is also managing director at Banziger Hulme Fine Art Consultants, which is a highly respected art consultancy in Australia and has been in operation for over ten years. David also regularly comments on the Australian and international art market on national radio and in numerous local and national newspapers.

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