Art in the Headlines

12 04 2013

Jackson Pollock, ‘The Key’, 1946 (via

Ah, Jackson Pollock.

What’s that, you say? Your two-year-old could have done that?

Well, perhaps you’re right… from The Age … 

‘Toddler young at art but showing a maturity to turn a profit.’ **

To all you jaded and mature-age art practitioners… meet what is described in reporter Matthew Dunn’s article as “art in its purest form, untouched by life’s pollutants and representative of what is important and beautiful”. Art made by a two-year-old. There’s your problem. You’re all far too polluted.

So there you go.

** ‘Young at art’. Love it. Those puns just pen themselves.


When too many cooks don’t necessarily spoil the broth…

21 02 2013

ImageQuick post today with a link to a great article by a board member of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Dr Luther Brady, in which he compares art authentication with the approaches used for medical science.

It struck a chord with me. I’ve been thinking about similar things myself recently. In an email response to a query from a friend recently, I wrote the following: 

My overall response to all your questions is that painting authentication is an inexact science. Given the number of people making a living out of playing the system and doing a good job of making forgeries that include all of the things that experts use to authenticate works of art, it is impossible for anyone to be 100% right 100% of the time. It all comes down to terminology – if the term ‘authentication’ is used, there is an assumption that an objective and scientific rigour has been applied to assessing authorship.
Taking a different perspective – let’s think about it in the context of medical science. You have a sore gut and go to your GP. The GP offers an expert opinion about what may be wrong with you and provides suitable remedies and prescriptions. A week later, you’re still unwell, so you return – ie: your GP was wrong. GP sends you to a specialist, who also offers an opinion. Another week later, still sick (ie: your specialist was also wrong in the expert opinion she formed), you head back to the specialist, who recommends a biopsy. In the lab, what’s really bothering you is identified and a course of treatment plotted out. Lesson from this, as in the art world – no expert is ever 100% right 100% of the time. But the art world is particularly tricky as you have unscrupulous people setting things up to also fool the scientists in the lab, as well as fabricating ‘symptoms’ (provenance etc) to deliberately fool experts.
The most effective way to authenticate a painting is to combine all three approaches – connoisseurship (expert knowledge of an artist’s ‘hand’), scholarship (examination of the historical record) and scientific examination. If all three boxes are ticked, there’s a better-than-most chance that the work of art is OK. But it’s still not 100%. There are too many variables.

Joining the Dots: The Sustainability of the Aboriginal Art Market

8 07 2010

Yes – things have been busy. Very busy. Exhaustion and sleeplessness have kicked in. But no fungus infections as yet, I’m happy to say (note to the repulsed – I’m referencing Roy Lichtenstein at left).

(Image: Roy Lichtenstein, ‘Takka Takka’, via

On top of the symposium I’m co-convening at the University of Melbourne next week, with speeches by the Minister for the Arts, Peter Garrett, 2010 Archibald and Wynne winner Sam Leach, and other venerable members of the visual art community, I’ve also been writing an article, ‘Joining the dots: analysing the sustainability of the Australian Aboriginal art market’, for publication in UNESCO’s humanities journal, Diogenes. Yes, I know. Enough of the self-serving plugs, already. But at the moment I’m so busy I don’t have anything else for you.

So here’s the pre-publication version of the paper, which looks at the sustainability of the Aboriginal art market using empirical evidence drawn from auction figures. My conclusion is that Aboriginal art, rightly or wrongly, is treated by the market as anthropological, rather than fine, art, and that this has implications for the mid- to long-term sustainability of the market. There are charts, tables and everything.

Please note, it’s the pre-publication form, and will be edited and formatted differently when it appears in Diogenes. It’s also a necessarily ponderous academic piece of writing. And long. (I’m a good salesman, aren’t I?) But there are some interesting bits and pieces in there that should be useful. I hope. It’s a formal version of a paper I delivered at the 2009 Art Association of Australia and New Zealand conference, and it attracted a fair bit of interest from a number of luminaries at said event. Then again, perhaps they were just being polite.

Anyways, here it is – the abstract first, to whet your appetite, and the rest of the article after the jump. Please take heed of the requisite copyright notice from Diogenes and Sage Publications. Because this is all original research put together by me and to be published exclusively in their lovely publication. And if you copy any of it and use it without requisite acknowledgment, they’ll have your proverbial guts for garters.


“This paper has been accepted for publication in Diogenes and the final (edited, revised and typeset) version of this paper will be published in Diogenes Vol/Issue, Month/2010 by SAGE Publications Ltd, All rights reserved. © ICPHS. For more information please visit: .”


Joining the dots: analysing the sustainability of the Australian Aboriginal art market


Sotheby’s estimates between fifty and seventy percent of the Aboriginal art it sells at auction is bought by international collectors. How do those buyers view their acquistions? On the Sotheby’s website, you will not find Aboriginal art listed with ‘Australian’ and ‘Contemporary Art’ under the ‘Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture’ department. Rather, it is classified as one of the ‘Ancient and Ethnographic Arts’, alongside ‘Antiquities’ and ‘Pre-Columbian Art’.

This paper will show that the promotion and perception of Aboriginal art as ethnographic rather than contemporary in nature is but one of a number of important aspects of the market that have implications for the industry’s long-term sustainability. This distinction has a significant effect on the way Aboriginal art is distributed, promoted and received by buyers and sellers. Collectors measure the value of ethnographic material by assessing its proximity to a culturally immaculate source. An object has the greatest ethnographic integrity if it emanates from a primitive, isolated community.

Author’s biography:

Dr. Meaghan Wilson-Anastasios is a researcher and sessional lecturer at the University of Melbourne. Her research interests include art price formation and how and why economic superstars emerge in the auction market. Part of her research was the focus of a Four Corners program, Art for Art’s Sake, aired on ABC television. Meaghan co-authored a paper with Professor Neil de Marchi of Duke University for the Congress of the International Committee of the History of Art: ‘The impact of unscrupulous dealers on sustainability in the Australian Aboriginal desert paintings market’. She is a registered art valuer and has seventeen years’ art-industry experience in public and commercial art institutions. Read the rest of this entry »

When Hollywood turns: the New York art market through the looking glass

25 03 2009


Just in time for the economic apocalypse, the almost inevitable backlash: a film lampooning the New York contemporary art world.

Slated for release in September this year, (Untitled) should provide ample entertainment for those licking their wounds after the deflation of the contemporary art feeding-frenzy (note to self: can a ‘feeding frenzy’ technically deflate?).

Starring Adam Goldberg of Entourage and Saving Private Ryan (I’m pretty sure he was the character memorably dispatched by the Evil Nazi in The Bell Tower with the SS Knife), I can’t make any promises whatsoever about the quality, or lack thereof of this film… I haven’t seen it. But Goldberg’s convincing facial hair (above left) and the following publicity still have won me over:

 Images: [Adam Goldberg]: Palm Springs International Film Society –; [Monkey and vacuum cleaner]:

Hurty art market fact #3

4 08 2008

OK. Enough with the silly, non-art diversions for now.

Consider the following hypothetical scenario.

You bid at auction for an apartment in a block of ten. There’s some to-and-fro, argy-bargy and a bit of tussling with one other bidder. But they drop out, the hammer falls, and you are the lucky winner. Yippee! Whoopee!

You move into your new property. All’s well with the world. Then, one day, you’re standing at your new front door, excavating your bag trying to find your keys (stapler? affirmative. tape measure? affirmative. toenail clipper? affirmative. keys? negative, captain). You see a familiar face peering at you from an adjacent apartment. Not one of the neighbours – you’ve met them all already. Ah, yes. It’s the underbidder from the auction.

Well, whaddya know? You smile and strike up a conversation: “So, trying to get someone to sell up? Better luck next time. No hard feelings, eh?”

Comments met with an uncomfortable smile. “Ah, no. I’m an agent. My client owns six of the apartments already. Guess you’d call him a landlord”. “Oh, wanted to buy another, did he?”. An even more uncomfortable smile. “No. I was bidding under his instructions to make sure his apartments weren’t devalued. Would have bought it if necessary, but as it turned out, it wasn’t”.

You: “So you’re saying I paid as much as I did for this place just because he didn’t want his apartments devalued?”. Uncomfortable silence. “Yeah. Guess so.”

How would you feel? Would this constitute fair use of the auction system?

Now, replace ‘apartment’ with ‘artwork’. And replace rival bidder/landlord with art dealer. This happens. Regularly. Well, clearly without the keys, toenail clippers etc. It’s a practice I describe as ‘buffering’ in my thesis.

Dealers can, and some do, act to ensure their artists’ work sells for a reasonable price if it appears at auction. This involves bidding for works at auction and, where necessary, buying works back rather than have them sell at prices that reflect poorly on their artists’ gallery prices. The industry condones this practice because it seems to protect artists’ best interest.

Influential New York dealer, Betty Parsons, said: “if a dealer has one of his artist’s paintings up for auction and he’s afraid the price will drop, then he’ll go and protect its value by buying it back. I’ve done that, and so has every dealer.”*

Artists’ rights and interests must be defended vigourously. But is the auction market, which needs to operate as an open competitive forum if it is to be efficient, the place to do it? Should exceptions be made for art that would never be tolerated in the property market?

Something to think about, anyway.


*This quote is from a brilliant book by Laura de Coppet and Alan Jones called The art dealers (publ. Clarkson N. Potter, New York, 1984). Highly recommend it.

Hurty art market fact #2

27 07 2008

Another painful arty-fact derived from my research.

The only really viable way for a private collector to sell art they don’t want anymore is through auction. Garage sales don’t generally cut it.

More than that, unless an artist’s work appears regularly at the major auction houses (in Australia, that means Sotheby’s, Deutscher-Menzies, possibly Bonhams & Goodman, and until recently, Christie’s), their work won’t sell for much in the way of cold, hard cashola. Ever.

This means that just 0.3% of practising, non-Indigenous Australian artists will establish a resale market.


Hurty art market fact #1

25 07 2008

That lingering sense of deja vu you get when browsing an art auction catalogue is no figment of your imagination.

Ehhemm.. ehhemm.. (What…? That’s supposed to be me clearing my throat in an authoritative manner).

Data derived from my research:

1999-2004: 17… yes… that’s 17 (seventeen)… non-Aboriginal Australian artists generated 40% of the total art auction revenue in Australia.

1972-2004: 23,333 artworks by 2,791 ‘contemporary’* artists were offered for sale at auction. 20% of those artworks were produced by just nine artists. That’s not a typo. 9. As in NINE.

The moral of the story? Artists establishing a good auction following = snowball, meet hell.

Come to think of it, that’s a really apt analogy.


* (defined as alive and presumed to be practising in 1990)