February 2018, London – This March, Sotheby’s ground-breaking sale of Aboriginal Art will return to London for its third consecutive season.
Following the strong results of 2015 and 2016, the sale will feature magnificent works which transcend the material and spiritual realms: rare artefacts including shields and ceremonial figures dating from the 18th century onwards will be shown alongside the works of Indigenous masters including Warlimpirringa Tjapaltjarri, Australia’s best-known Aboriginal artist, and Janangoo Butcher Cherel, who was proclaimed a Living Treasure by the state government of Western Australia in 2004. These will stand alongside seven monumental canvases from Emily Kame Kngwarreye, who shattered the world record for a work by an Australian female artist just last year.
Sotheby’s is the only international auction house outside Australia to hold regular sales of Aboriginal Art. Since its inauguration in 2015, the series has established a swathe of new benchmarks, with new auction records for Aboriginal sculpture, artefacts, bark paintings, and work by a living Aboriginal artist.
Ahead of the sale on March 14, all 77 works will be exhibited at Sotheby’s New Bond Street galleries from March 10-13, providing a unique opportunity for visitors to see Indigenous art and artefacts first-hand.
Informed by a lifetime of learning, the extraordinary array of works are steeped in Indigenous knowledge, illustrating the ancestral narratives of the Dreaming – stories owned by different tribes that explain the creation of life, people and animals – and communicating the value of Aboriginal culture to the wider world.
Sotheby’s Senior Consultant Tim Klingender says: “This year’s auction offers an outstanding selection of works of high importance and calibre, bringing together rare artefacts and monumental canvases from three major international collections, including that of collectors and philanthropists Dennis and Debra Scholl. With the energetic masterworks of Media Release For Immediate Release Emily Kame Kngwarreye, to the ceremonial figures steeped in ancestral history, we expect this year’s sale to be the strongest so far and to capture the interest of collectors from across the globe.”
From the Swiss collection of Stefano Spaccapietra come six magnificent works spanning the short but prolific career of Australia’s most famous female artist Emily Kame Kngwarreye, the most important collection of her work ever to come to auction.
Kngwarreye’s professional career began at the age of 80, and followed a lifetime of
making art in the private confines of women’s ceremonies, decorating the bodies of
participants in ritual designs and creating sand mosaics on the ground. Her journey
towards the final stage of her life as an extraordinary painter was no mean feat – she
had been a goatherd, domestic servant, Wolfram miner and cameleer, as well as a
matriarch and leading advocate for land rights for the Anmatyerre people.
When she took up a brush and acrylic in 1988, her paintings amazed an art world that
was largely ignorant of her past life. Here was a woman who spoke practically no
English, who had no experience of the world of art, yet was creating paintings which
appeared modernist. Kngwarreye’s rise to prominence was instant and meteoric – in
1992 she was awarded an Australian Artists Creative Fellowship and in 1997 she was
chosen to represent Australia at the Venice Biennale.
Spaccapietra’s infatuation with Kngwarreye’s work began in 1993 with the striking
Fertile Desert, which he purchased directly from the Gallerie Dettinger-Mayer in
Lyon. This charming and vibrant initial purchase inspired Spaccapietra to travel to
Australia in search of the very finest examples of her art.
Fertile Desert is of both spiritual and material significance. Kngwarreye’s traditional lands were governed by two Emu ancestors who acted as guardians of the Anmatyerre law, but emu also provides an essential source of protein to desert people. Ceremonies performed in the late Australian spring guarantee the profusion of the bush plum intekwe and consequently the animal’s crucial abundance. Subsequently, many of Kngwarreye’s works represent the food on which emus thrive. In this instance, Fertile Desert refers to emus scuttling between their nests in search of plants, bush fruit, berries and seeds – a notable theme which recurs throughout the artist’s works.
Kngawarreye’s Kame – Summer Awelye II is one of four magisterial works painted on a monumental scale in the heat of the Australian desert summer in 1991, another of which is now in the collection of the National Gallery of Victoria.
These are among the first which Kngwarreye painted on such a vast scale, emphasising the broad expanse of her country, and celebrating the seasonal cycle of the ever flourishing landscape. The yellow and pink palette mimics remarkably the flowers and seeds of the atnulare tuber (seen right), a staple of the desert diet, and a plant after which Kngwarreye was also named; ‘kame’ is the Eastern Anmatyere word for the seed and small flowers of the plant. This work is thus a remarkable incarnation of the intrinsic connection of the
Alhalkere people to their fertile ancestral landscape.