17 July, 2005

arts market

When the American naturalist Larry May was travelling through the Northern Territory in 1972, he picked up a painting by a little-known artist, Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri. Then, the going rate for a Papunya work was about $50 to $100.Now, the same painting, Emu Corroboree Man, is expected to fetch about $300,000 at a Sotheby's sale on July 25, setting a new record for a Possum work sold at auction.

"This is his first known painting that was produced using Western materials and painted specifically as a work of art," said Sotheby's Aboriginal art expert, Tim Klingender, explaining that previously Possum would have painted on bodies or the ground."What I think is astonishing is that for the first time, an artist has picked up Western materials and gone on to create a painting so exceptionally detailed and fine in its technique and application."The painting depicts a man in ceremonial dress at the centre of a complex ritual, surrounded by animal tracks, emu silhouettes and waterholes."It's ... an extraordinarily vibrant piece. The colours are terribly bright and almost glow on the board," Mr Klingender said.

Art market analyst Michael Reid said Emu Corroboree Man was worth the fuss. "It's dated 1972, which is the absolute genesis of the Western Desert movement ... In the '80s there was a massive flood of [Possum] fakes which [sullied] his reputation."There's always been a cloud that hangs over late Clifford Possum works, so you ... basically aim for one of the early works," he said. A Sotheby's spokeswoman said buyers in New York and London had shown significant interest, hinting at offers twice Sotheby's estimate of $150,000 to $300,000.

Because the painting is consigned from the United States, it is not protected by Australian Moveable Cultural Heritage legislation. The curator of the 2004 Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri retrospective, Vivian Johnson, said it was "unfortunate" the work would probably be snapped up by an overseas buyer.

from the SMH link

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