Signaling Growing Market Ambitions, Sotheby’s Is Moving Its Australian Aboriginal Art Sale to New York This Fall

The sale had for many years been in London.

Emily Kame Kngwarreye's Summer Celebration (1991).

A sale at Sotheby’s New York in November will mark the first time that an international auction house will host a sale of Australian Aboriginal art in the US.

Sotheby’s is relocating its annual Aboriginal at auction from London to its new headquarters in New York, a move that signals the growing awareness of indigenous art outside of Australia over the last two decades. The auction was previously held in Australia from 1996 to 2009, before moving to London in 2015.

“It has been my ambition for many years to conduct these sales in New York and 2019 marks 30 years since the landmark traveling exhibition ‘Dreamings—The Art of Aboriginal Australia’ at the Asia Society galleries introduced the city to this dynamic art movement,” said a statement from Tim Klingender, Sotheby’s senior consultant on Australian art who will lead the sale in New York. “Since then, interest in the field has grown continuously, and it is now collected in depth by many of the world’s leading museums and private collectors.”

The auction house has been a leader in Aboriginal art. It holds the highest auction price for a living Australian Aboriginal artist: Michael Nelson Jakamara’s Five Stories, which sold in 2016 for £401,000 ($508,161). It also set an auction record for an Australian indigenous sculptor with Benedict Munkara’s Untitled, Male and Female Figures of Purukapali and Bima, which sold for £251,000 ($318,052) in 2016.

In New York’s November sale, two paintings by Emily Kame Kngwarreye from the early 1990s will be offered by the Dutch collector Thomas Vroom. The senior elder of the Anmatyerre community was also a resident at Utopia in the Northern Territory, a former cattle station that was reclaimed by its indigenous Australian owners in 1979. Kngwarreye is known for her paintings with fabric in batik and for representing Australia at the 1997 Venice Biennale.

Currently, two exhibitions of indigenous Australian art are on view in New York: “Desert Painters of Australia: Works from the Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection of the University of Virginia and the Collection of Steve Martin and Anne Stringfield” is on view at Gagosian Gallery through July 3, while MoMA PS1 has put on a show by the indigenous Australian group the Karrabing Film Collective, up until May 27.


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