Aussie Art Cracks Millionaires' Club
18.04.2006 By Sunanda Creagh
THE art market celebrated two multimillion-dollar sales this week, and market analysts believe there is plenty more record breaking to come.
On Monday Christie's knocked down Upwey Landscape by Fred Williams to an investor for $1.9 million - more than three times the previous record for a Williams sold under the hammer.
A day later The Bar by John Brack was sold by Sotheby's to a private collector for $3.12 million - the highest price ever paid for an Australian artwork. The previous record was $2.3 million for Frederick McCubbin's Bush Idyll.
The managing director of Sotheby's Australia, Mark Fraser, said people were in for a few surprises in the next few years on what the Australian market could achieve. "It's not fully priced … one could argue the whole market is undervalued," he said.
Big sales will bring more rare works out of the woodwork. "Once new benchmarks are set, new, exciting and important work emerges on the market," Mr Fraser said. "We are very optimistic that there'll be more where that came from."
Christie's Australian chairman, Roger McIlroy, said that "for the very best things, the only way is up. But the rest of the market is travelling along in a not particularly extraordinary state."
The executive director of Deutscher-Menzies, Chris Deutscher, said: "There's a light irony to it all: Fred Williams and John Brack were very close friends and for one to bring a record one night and have the other eclipse it the next night, it's almost like someone up above pulling strings."
He said public galleries were increasingly willing to spend at auction and predicted works by Brett Whiteley, Sidney Nolan and Arthur Boyd would hurdle the million-dollar mark.
"I think it's a new era. It's just a case of the right works coming up," he said. "[The Williams and Brack] were exceptional works. Nothing like those have come on the market for the last 20 years."
One market analyst noted that the Williams record was set at Christie's last Australian auction. "It brings us to the real reason they are leaving, which was that Christie's was underperforming compared to Sotheby's. It was [about] market share," he said.