Contemporary Australian Art now within Cooee

Adrian Newstead’s Cooee Gallery, the first to specialise in Aboriginal art, celebrates 40 years in 2021. At a time when one might expect a gallery director with such a long established business to be calling it quits or at least slowing down somewhat, Newstead’s seemingly boundless energy and enthusiasm led him and executive director Mirri Leven to establish an additional gallery space on Oxford Street for Aboriginal art sales and auctions.

Most recently, the dynamic duo have further expanded by moving into Ken Done’s massive Thurlow Street building at Redfern, taking up the entire ground floor. This move provides them with a more permanent and suitable home for their vision for ongoing Aboriginal art auctions. These have been proving more and more popular and successful due to renewed interest and engagement from collectors in the secondary market sales of Aboriginal art after a sad decline after the global financial crisis.

Newstead and Leven’s new location exudes an inner-city industrial chic atmosphere, highly conducive to viewing and selling not only Aboriginal art. Indeed, in a further ramping up operations, Cooee have engaged the services long-time art specialist Litsa Wilkinson, formerly of Menzies and Bonhams, to handle Cooee’s bold move into auction sales of “modern and contemporary fine art”.

According to Wilkinson, the primary aim of the planned bi-annual auctions is to “foster artwork by practising artists… whose works have been underrepresented in the secondary market”.

In the sale on Wednesday night there were just two Australian artists without any auction room profile whatsoever, Rupert Betheras and Anthony White, but a number of artists with less sales in this arena.

The 111 lots provided an attractive mixed vendor sale of Australian and international contemporary art, with well known Sydney gallerist Trevor Harvey supplying 28 artworks from his personal collection, which included works by Brett Whiteley, Alex Seton, Sam Leach, Charles Blackman, Ray Crooke, David Bromley and Paul Ryan.

A very early work by Noel McKenna kicked off Cooee’s contemporary art sale: Farmer with Two Rabbits, 1982 (Lot 1 ), sold mid-range at $6,000 of its $5,000-7,000 estimates.

Brett Whiteley’s Silver Eye, 1988 (Lot 6 ), a sumptuous screenprint also sold mid-range for $14,000 on $12,000-16,000 hopes. Jon Cattapan’s Antenna No. 2 (Lot 17 ) sold below estimates of $26,000-32,000 for $23,000, as did Louis Pratt’s very bendy Whatever, 2012 (Lot 23 ), which sold for $12,500 on hopes of $15,000-20,000.

Auctioneer James Badgery sold international prints by Pablo Picasso (Lot 27 ) for $9,500 on estimates of $8,000-12,000, and Käthe Kollwitz’ The Mourners (Lot 28 ) at its high estimate of $6,000.

One of Martine Emdur’s typical underwater scenes, Voyeur V (Lot 39 ), achieved $19,000, just below the low estimate of $20,000, whilst Clifton Pugh’s above ground Magpies in a Landscape, 1971 (Lot 41 ) sold well above its hopes of $10,000-15,000 for $21,000.

Dale Frank
Dale Frank, ‘Doesn’t Anyone know How to Make a Good Coffee’, (lot 49) sold for $36,000 in the inaugural Cooee Modern and Contemporary fine art auction of 111 lots.

Kathie Sutherland’s recently published and very heavy catalogue raisonné on Brett Whiteley is proving to be worth both the wait and the weight given the fluidity of sales of Brett Whiteley’s work today. His Glasshouse Mountains, Queensland, 1976 (Lot 43 ) sold for $40,000, as did other Whiteley works: Swinging Monkey (Lot 53 ) sold for $7,500, the mysterious Poem for a Lover (Lot 54 ) for $12,000, and The Lovers, 1984 (Lot 85 ) for $4,000.

James Gleeson’s The Behaviours of Propitious Energies, 1992 (Lot 45 ) sold for $38,000 on estimates of $45,000-65,000, and Dale Frank’s wonderfully titled Doesn’t Anyone Know how to Make a Good Coffee, 2009 (Lot 49 ) sold for $36,000 on hopes of $38,000-50,000.

The preliminary sales total for the inaugural Cooee Modern and Contemporary art auction sale is $643,000 including buyer’s premium, representing about 60% by number, and this will increase as post auction sales are finalised.

Article originally published in AASD

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