Fourteen big auctions of art works worth more than $40 million will be held in Melbourne and Sydney over the next month – the largest number ever run in Australia in such a short time. Cashed-up collectors and investors have already set new records for paintings this year while a market loaded with money has attracted more auctioneers hoping to generate a profit from pictures.

Bonhams, which claims to be one of the largest fine art auction houses in the world, is launching its new Melbourne sale rooms tonight under the Bonhams & Goodman shingle. The Sydney-based firm expects 300 guests from the arts, banking and legal professions, together with dealers and private collectors, will be present when Melbourne Lord Mayor John So opens the new gallery in Malvern Road, Prahran.

The sale room starts off a series of auctions it estimates will generate $7 million on Sunday when 185 pieces of jewellery and collectibles go under the hammer, to be followed by a further 311 objects from the Neville Locker collection in Sydney on Sunday week. On Monday in Melbourne, the firm is selling a range of Australian, international and Aboriginal art while on Tuesday it will offer furniture, decorative arts and “historical Australian objects”.

The boutique auctionhouse Mossgreen last week sold what was to have been its big prize this Sunday — a Sidney Nolan painting of Ned Kelly — for $1.475 million. The Susan Renouf-owned picture was to kick-start a sale of the collection of entertainment entrepreneur, the late Clifford Hocking. On Monday, Mossgreen will auction Australian art and furniture along with European and Asian decorative arts from the Mt Ridley estate.

The auction action then moves to Sydney with Bonham & Goodman’s second sale on Sunday week to be followed the next Wednesday by Lawson-Menzies’s second big sale of the year when 480 paintings, prints and drawings will go under the hammer at the firm’s new rooms in Kensington.

Another three smaller salerooms, Shapiro, Badgery’s and Phillips will auction a range of fine and decorative arts during the first week of May until Sotheby’s comes under the spotlight when it offers $13 million worth Australian paintings in Sydney on May 7. That sale of 115 works includes Brett Whiteley’s huge painting of the Opera House which Sotheby’s is confident will break the current Australian auction record and sell for more than $3 million.

Auction newcomers Deutscher and Hackett start their new business with a sale of Australian and International fine art in Melbourne two days later while Lawson-Menzies in Sydney and Joel Fine Art in Melbourne end the month with sales of Aboriginal art.

Australia’s booming art market is a small echo of spectacular auctions that have taken place in London, New York and across Europe and Asia this year. Auctioneers and art dealers believe much of the action here is being driven by new collectors attracted to art as a sure-fire investment. Art consultant Jon Dwyer says the market is underpinned by superfund money as people operating self-managed funds have turned to paintings. But Eureka Report editor James Kirby says those inexperienced in the art market face losing their money. Kirby quotes art critic Robert Hughes who said recently that most art is bad; Kirby adds that likewise most art investments are bad.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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