Image Caption: Men’s house ornament representing a bird, probably a sea eagle, holding a fish (cf. Biro 1901, Fig.5, 5). Bongu or Bogadjim, Astrolabe Bay. Nr. 0374. Church House Collection. Image by Kevin Hamdorf. Reproduced with the permission of the Wantok Place Museum, Adelaide.
This edition of the Journal features Barry Craig’s account of the Pacific collection at the new Wantok Place Museum in North Adelaide as well as Jim Elmslie’s story behind the recent sales with remarkable provenance of works from the Hermannsburg school in Central Australia. We’ve introduced a new feature, the President’s Corner, where Bill Rathmell interviewed Nick Mitzevich, Director of the National Gallery of Australia, following news reports of the deaccession of Pacific pieces from the collection.
No doubt other Australia-based members of the OAS have been intrigued as I have been about the recent reports in the Australian media that the local general art market has had some great sales during this COVID time – including some record breaking prices for a number of Australian artists including Fred Williams, Hans Heysen and the lesser known Australian Impressionist Iso Rae – as auctions have moved online. It has also been reported that even at the low end of the price scale, artworks are meeting their estimates or surpassing them.
To find out the state of the more highly specialised oceanic art market, OAS’s advertisers were canvassed for their experience over the last few months to receive a varied set of experiences, possibly reflecting the location, size of their collections and nature of their businesses. Everyone has confirmed that Oceanic art remains a much more niche market and most have confirmed that business has been flat at best. They also haven’t seen an increase in interest from younger art buyers who have been reported to be increasingly interested in the purchase of works by contemporary artists. Some dealers have moved to engage more fully in the online space, adding more stories to their online shopwindows and moving to social media platforms such as Instagram which have a younger audience.
Michael Hamson admitted that business activity was distinctly lacklustre six months prior to the pandemic hitting in mid-March followed by non-existent business for the two months of tight lockdown in the US. Since then, by adding new pieces at “modest prices” and contributing real solid content to his website supplemented by establishing a rich Instagram account regularly updated with luscious visuals, he has built up increased engagement and is attracting new clients – and selling many of his “excellent but affordable” pieces. He said, “I am not sure what to make of this fairly drastic uptick in business. I think it is in part some pent-up demand from collectors not being able to add to their collection, some boredom of hanging around the house too much and of course a renewed appreciation of their collections and the daily joy it can bring them. I think the true test of the market will come next month with the Parcours des Mondes show in Paris.”
Some exhibitors like Michael Hamson will have a virtual presence at the Paris-based Parcours des Mondes; this follows on from other events like the Santa Fe – August 2020 Walk and Sale being moved to a five day Virtual Walk and Sale event. US-based dealers are also watching the Senate vote on the Safeguard Tribal Objects of Patrimony Act 2020 which will severely curtail the export of Native American art and artefacts.
In Australia, Warren Campbell created a strong online presence years ago and is seeing interest from Bubble Art’s younger clientele slowly increasing, a trend that predates COVID-19. He sees that there are now “opportunities in chaos. Like any other downturn, the opportunity for any collector to buy is now while the market is at rock bottom. I expect we will not likely see another opportunity to buy at such low prices for a long time”. He is buoyed by the interest of younger buyers in any format of art and believes, “like a good aged wine, our youth learn the understanding of the myth and magic as well as the beauty of a piece of Oceanic art over time”.
The COVID-19 pandemic has continued to play havoc with in person events for museums and galleries, auction houses and dealers and organisations including the OAS.
We have set a probable date of Saturday 28 November for this year’s OAS AGM and Lecture followed by a lunch in Sydney.
Planning is continuing on the next Sydney Oceanic Art Fair (SOAF) to be held in August 2021, and the next OAS Forum being held in Brisbane towards the end of 2021 to coincide with the 10th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art resulting in the Melbourne-based Forum being moved to 2022.
DATES FOR YOUR DIARY
• Probable date – Saturday 28 November – OAS AGM and lecture followed by lunch – venue to be advised.
• 21 August 2021 – Sydney Oceanic Art Fair (SOAF) – National Art School, Sydney.