Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Over Exposed

Until this year, there was very little of my work in the secondary market. My large enamel paintings were closely held by collectors – they still are – and only a few of the many smaller studies in enamel on canvas or acrylic on paper I did when I was younger had found their way into the hands of dealers or auction houses. Between 1998 and the end of 2008, fewer than a dozen of my works went under the hammer at auction.
Then, at the end of 2008, Dangerous Career Babes: The Aviator, a large enamel on board painting, sold for $A32,701 at Christie's sale of Modern And Contemporary Australian And South African Art in London, a then unheard-of price for my work. Over the next several months, a number of older – and, frankly, much lesser – paintings turned up in the catalogues of local auction houses, with reserves that exposed greedy expectations of 1,000 per cent profits and more over the original purchase prices.
I was thrilled, at first. Then I had a nagging guilt that only a few of these works were of a quality that matched the more recent output of my studio. It was as if my work had been so tightly held for so long – and then as now, I exhibited new work rarely – that collectors were willing to buy anything.
In some cases, they were. Paintings with cracked or scuffed paint, warped stretchers, torn canvases and splintered boards managed to find buyers. As much to discourage the value being put on these damaged works as to insulate myself from the pain of seeing just how badly they'd been treated, I ignored requests to assess works or to quote for their repair.
Earlier this year, following a long hospitalisation, I was forced to petition for bankruptcy. My assets, including all my artwork, were placed in the hands of the Insolvency and Trustee Service (or ITSA) , a government agency responsible for the administration and regulation of the personal insolvency system in Australia. Wisely, ITSA brought in the Sydney auction house, Lawson's, to assess the value of several dozen drawings (mostly sketches for larger works), reference photographs, and unfinished small paintings in various media and to handle their disposal at auction.
Over the past several months, these pieces have trickled into low-profile monthly sales, to be snapped up by bargain-hunters.
I fret about the value of my work. I feel the weight of responsibility for the many collectors who have invested in it. But my large enamels dating after 2004 (other than the ubiquitous Cowboy Babes) are still hard to come by and increasingly expensive. When earlier works turn up in major sales, their estimates are cautious but not ungenerous, given the temporary 'Dooney glut'.
Last month, one of my paintings was passed in for the first time – i.e. unsold – at Menzies Art Brands' end of year auction of major Australian contemporary art in Sydney. However another in the same sale achieved its estimate.
On December 15th, Menzies will hold a similar sale in Melbourne, with two more of my works included in the catalogue. Pearl: Soul Eternally Lost, Soul Eternally Saved, dates from 1998. Measuring 105cm x 147.5cm, in high gloss enamel on canvas , was first bought by a former boyfriend, the musician (and Regurgitator singer and bassist), Ben Ely, and its pre-sale estimate is $A9,000 to $A12,000. A smaller work, Career Babe: The Surf Life Saver (Resized for Easy Consumption), from 2002, also in high gloss enamel but on board, 40cm x 50cm, has an estimate of $A3,800 to $A4,500.
The works can be viewed in Sydney from today until Sunday, 5th December, 11am to 6pm, at Menzies Gallery, 12 Todman Ave., Kensington (Tel. 02 8344 5404). They will then be shipped to Melbourne, where they can be viewed from Thursday, 9th December to Tuesday, 14th December, 11am to 6pm, at Menzies Gallery, 1 Darling St., South Yarra (Tel. 03 9832 870).
Above: Holy Flash, high gloss enamel on canvas, 76cm x 101cm, recently sold by Art Nomad.


Georgiana said...

Do you think that being overly concerned about the value of your work could potentially damage your creative integrity?

I know there is a tug of war between the nature of an artist and the necessity of commercialisation, but where is the line for you?

How commercial do you want to be?

Isn't the art world a fickle environment? How much responsibility are you prepared to take on your shoulders when there are factors out of your control?

Why not just relax, enjoy your success and make more work?

Anonymous said...

You're cool. Abolish worry and succeed, whatever that means to you.

Jude Calvert-Toulmin said...

A very groovy, thoughtful and thought provoking article Hazel, thanks.

I think regarding the money/art/value/commercialism/big business is shit/ debate, Banksy's hilariously subversive intro for The Simpsons says it all.

Phil said...

There is no self. Self is a complete illusion on any level.There is no author, no controller, no thinker just thinking.

hugh said...

An artist client of mine has been working for about five years now and her work is finding a good market. I have to say the difference in the quality and confidence in her painting is marked. Recent works are much more accomplished than works of a few years ago. The prices she achieves have always been in the thousands, and yet the later works are so much better than the earlier ones.

Anonymous said...

Every great person has had a financial set back and with help reclaimed and conquered their life, achieving the next levels and its adventures. Often it is a signed missed along the way or over enthusiasm and promises made by other that are not honoured, with you left to pay the price. I purchased 3 of your watercolours recently without fully knowing your works and history, I just liked them, as I discovered you more I entered the outer perimeter of your artlife a bit of an admirer, and like many others a soapbox champion of your works and style. It takes time to return to full speed after a bump, but you will notice the roads are a lot smoother.