If ever there was a case for artists
getting royalties on the resale of their pictures, it was the stunning result
last night at Sotheby’s sale of aboriginal art.

The auction house’s Aboriginal art specialist, Tim Klingender, took the
less-is-more approach in putting together this sale, Sotheby’s 10th annual
auction dedicated to Indigenous art.

Preferring quality over quantity, Klingender assembled just 131 lots,
including more than a few museum-quality works, like Rover Thomas’s Bugaltji,
Lissadell Country, which sold for $660,000, the second-highest price ever paid
for a work by an Aboriginal artist .

According to Larry Schwartz in The Age,
21 artists achieved record prices on the night with sales totalling $3.94
million.

As The Australian reported,
some works sold well above their reserve, including a painting by Clifford
Possum Tjapaltjarri, which sold for $200,000 – twice what it was expected to
fetch.

The success of the Sotheby’s sale and that of another auction held in by
Lawson-Menzies in Sydney came despite fears that the enthusiasm of collectors
would be dampened by a combination of rising oil prices, the crisis in the
Middle East and expectations of an interest rate hike.

While the auction houses and vendors did nicely out of last night’s sales,
the artists who created the works won’t profit a cent.

They would have had the Federal Government accepted a recommendation from
Rupert Myer’s inquiry into the visual arts. Myer called for a resale royalties
program whereby artists would have received a small percentage of the price of
their work every time it was resold on the secondary market.

As Crikey reported, the auction houses, with Michael Kroger
acting as their lobbyist, campaigned against the scheme and it was killed in the
May budget.

Tim Klingender of Sotheby’s used to be a vocal supporter of resale
royalties, but he is now under instruction from his employers to keep those
views to himself.

Peter Fray

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