The Art Gallery fills up » Aboriginal Art Directory


In September of that troubled year, fans of Australian artist Lindy Lee were delighted to learn that she had been commissioned by the National Gallery in Canberra to create a 13-tonne, 4m-tall sculpture called “Ouroboros‘ at a cost of $14 million. Of course, the costs of materials and construction will cover a good part of this price, but critical reviewers believed that a considerable amount of work by other artists could have been obtained for this kind of money.

But could he? For the freedom of information efforts of ‘The Australian’ Journalist Remy Varga has revealed that the NGA tends to pay top dollar when it comes to collecting Australian art – even First Nations art. In November, ‘The Oz‘ has published two lists of recent purchases and donations, although the prices for the latter list are missing. Of course, two appraisers must agree on when a donation is tax deductible. But I suspect that the ATOs/taxpayers were probably willing to pay amounts matching those on the purchase list.

Who was ruled by two monsters from overseas – Jordan Wolfson would have been evil’Body Sculpture‘ for $4.5 million. And Tracey Emin’ bronzeWhen I sleep‘ for $1.1 million, one of 16 works by the English artist. Do you have a bulk discount? It’s clear that Lindy Lee’s recent patriotic commission tops them both.

But then comes a 2002 Gordon Bennett canvas that costs $540,000. i wonder what ‘Notes to Basquiat: The Death of Irony’ cost in 2002 while the artist was alive to enjoy it? Fellow Queenslander Richard Bell must be rubbing his hands very much alive with glee since his ‘Little things, big things grow‘ grossed $391,500. Both were sold by Milani Gallery.

Jonathon Jones – another blak rather than classic artist – comes next in the pantheon; $300,000 for ‘walang-wunga.galang’. This appears to be the set of grinding stones created by Jones and Stan Grant Snr for the 2020 Tarnanthi exhibition, accompanied by the soft sound of grinding stone on stone. They looked perfectly placed in the Economic Botany Museum of Santos. But what will they look like in an art gallery, I wonder? No gallery took its percentage on this sale.

The late Ginger Riley is the first distant artist on the list to benefit from the revaluation of his work by the NGA. His ‘my mother’s country‘ raised $196,800 at a Bonhams auction, and as it was a 1996 work, no resale royalties accrue to the artist’s estate. But it was certainly good for the owners of his works who might be tempted to sell.

Dr. Danie Mellor has not one but two works on the NGA list. His ‘landstory‘ raised $180,909 and ‘A gaze still dark (a black portrait of intimacy)‘ tipped the scales at $47,273 – both via Tolarno Galleries.

After the NT Museum and Gallery kept the Tjanpi Toyota that had just won the $40,000 Telstra NATSIA prize, probably no one thought that woven desert grasses would make this kind of comeback again. But now the twelve ladies who created the ‘Seven Sisters / Kungkarankalpa‘ for the NGA’s Women’s Show in 2020 brought in $116,781 (a very odd sum that doesn’t easily divide by 7 or 12!). In fact, it should be 8 – because the sisters were of course always accompanied by the priapic Yurla, with bad intentions.

Back to the Blak – and Tony Albert next appears on the list with the sale of his 2021 by Sullivan & Strumpf ‘Conversations with Preston: Christmas Bells‘. Measuring 3 by 4 meters it is tall and I am delighted to share it with readers this Christmas season. Before Albert, Gordon Bennett, of course, sought to find a critical relationship with pioneer Margaret Preston.

And then to Brook Andrew – who seems to have remained little noticed at the National Gallery if the fact that they had only just purchased a print from his 1996′Sexy and dangerousedition of 20, for $89,091. As the sale is again attributed to Tolarno Galleries, I have to assume the artist profited from it rather than a clever early buyer. BTW, have you ever wondered what the Chinese calligraphy on the warrior’s chest might say? According to Ted Snell in ‘The conversation‘, it means ‘feminine trickery’! He explains, “Andrew created ‘Sexy and dangerous’ at the time of the confrontation in Tiananmen Square, and can therefore be interpreted as emphasizing the need to resist in the face of oppression. Is Andrew urging us to readjust our understanding of what it means to occupy a country whose sovereignty manifests itself in this image of the native leader? International politics at the NGA?

Two other Blak artists come next – a rather surprising amount of $75,000 for Dale Harding’s’Know them with correct judgment‘, and $65,455 for Christopher Pease’s ‘Target 3 – Memory‘. Pease has been around much longer than Harding. But Harding can benefit from representation at the Milani Gallery. Because, next on the list is the first female Indigenous artist – Bonita Ely, born in Mildura – who made a remarkable $65,000 for her’Murray River Punch’, documentation of a performance in 1980, which seems to have been exhibited at Milani in 2008.
Could it be that the NGA is jumping on the excellent bandwagon of selecting works by Dale Harding and Bonita Ely from the Tate Modern for its current show in London, ‘A year in the art: Australia 1992‘?

That’s it for the headlines. Reasonable but not exceptional prices for current art makers such as the Ken Sisters and Nonggirrnga Marawili and the recently deceased Mrs. N Yunupingu and Mavis Ngallametta.

So, thank you to the National Gallery for raising the prices for Indigenous art. But some may recall Tim Klingender’s claims when he was at Sotheby’s that he and the gallery itself somehow managed to drive up the price of the late Rover Thomas’s.All that big rain falling from above‘ for nearly $800,000 at auction in 2001 to set a record price for Aboriginal art.

However, this timeThe Australian’ The paper’s art correspondent, Christoper Allen, was unimpressed with the NGA’s buying frenzy: “Management has clearly lost sight of a strategic vision for the collection, bewitched by fashion, glamor and this particular intoxication with ideological gestures that we might call Political Cringe. So much has been spent on Aboriginal art, but especially on a number of strident contemporaries who are successfully monetizing their sense of grievance”.

BTW, if you think you could organize the NGA’s First Nations collection differently, the opportunity exists until January 24 to apply to be its Senior Curator of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art. He is the patron, incidentally “responsible for directing the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artistic team, ensuring the development, exhibition, research, interpretation and promotion of the most important collection of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art to the world”. Nowhere does it say you have to be aboriginal to get a job, but the “positive measures – aboriginal” seem to apply.

Is this a job that will come to Tina Baum, curator of ATSI art for nearly 17 years? Or will it be a promotion for her, I wonder?

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Artist: Gordon Bennett, Richard Bell, Jonathon Jones, Ginger Riley, Danie Mellor, Brook Andrew, Dale Harding, Christopher Pease, Bonita Ely, Ken Sisters, Nonggirrnga Marawili, Ms N Yunupingu, Mavis Ngallametta, Rover Thomas,

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Bonita Ely, Andrew Brook, Christoper Allen, Christopher Pease, Dale Harding, Danie Mellor, Ginger Riley, Gordon Bennett, Jeremy Eccles, Jonathon Jones, Ken Sisters, Mavis Ngallametta, Milani Gallery, Mrs N Yunupingu, National Gallery of Australia, Nonggirrnga Marawili, Remy Varga, Richard Bell, Rover Thomas, Tina Baum, Tolarno Galleries,


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