Sotheby's New York announces second annual Auction of Aboriginal Art

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Sotheby's New York announces second annual Auction of Aboriginal Art
Warlimpirrnga Tjapaltjarri, Tarkul, 1999. Synthetic polymer paint on linen, 60 1/4 in by 72 in (153 cm by 183 cm). Estimate $25/35,000. Courtesy Sotheby's.

NEW YORK, NY.- Sotheby’s announced the second annual Aboriginal Art auction in New York, which will be presented as an online sale open for bidding from 25 November – 4 December. Comprising 52 lots, the sale features works created by artists from the world’s oldest continuous culture, including a selection of works from the collection of the late, pioneering Australian artist David Larwill, as well as masterworks from the most celebrated artists in the field such as Emily Kame Kngwarreye, Charlie Tarawa Tjungurrayi, John Mawurndjul, Charlie Numbulmoore, Mathaman Marika and more.

Timothy Klingender, Sotheby’s Senior Consultant Australian Art commented: “The success of last year’s inaugural auction in New York confirmed the appeal of Aboriginal art among a growing international audience so we are excited to once again offer a curated selection of outstanding paintings created by the field’s most renowned artists from 1960 to the present. We are also particularly honored to offer 16 paintings from the Estate of Australian artist David Larwill, collected over more than twenty years, reflecting both his deep respect and affinity for the Western Desert painters, and the artist's great 'eye'."

A dedicated exhibition for the sale will be on view by appointment only in Sotheby’s York Avenue galleries from 30 November – 3 December as well as available to the public online via our new immersive digital gallery experience.

A trailblazing Australian artist, David Larwill (1956 – 2011) was known not only for his distinctive style based on bold colors, stylized figures and simplified form, but also for his ability to segue comfortably between the European elements of Australia’s population and its traditional, indigenous peoples of remote Central and Northern Australia. During his lifetime he was a champion of the remarkable cultural output of Australia’s indigenous artists, which greatly influenced the art he created himself as well as the works he collected.

Larwill’s fascination with both outsider and indigenous art began well before his travels through remote Australia; as a student he was influenced by Jean Dubuffet and the expressionist outpourings of the CoBrA group – latching onto the raw, direct, figurative forms of expression that would remain at the core of his own work for the next 20 years – as well as with the tags and graffiti he found on the subways and in the streets of New York City, and in the work of Jean-Michel Basquiat – an artist who would have a profound and lasting influence on him. This predilection for the unconventional and rejection of the norm was reflected in his own artistic practice; disillusioned with art school, he was a founding member of ROAR Studios group in Melbourne, an anti-establishment collective devoted to expressionism during a period permeated with postmodernism and conceptualism. Despite, or perhaps because of, his anti-establishment stance, Larwill rapidly became one of the most renowned and successful Australian artists of his generation.

In the 1990s Larwill began his Aboriginal Art collection journey when he started routinely traveling to the arid desert lands of Central Australia and the semi-tropical zone known as the ‘Top End’. Finding a deep connection with the remote communities there and their core relation to the land, he established lasting relationships with the artists, enabling him to build a remarkable collection of Aboriginal Art. Featuring works by Yala Yala Gibbs, Ronnie Tjampitinpa, George Tjungurrayi, Warlimpirrnga Tjapaltjarri, Makinti Napanangka and Jackie Giles among others, the sale marks the first time his collection has ever been offered at auction.

A standout lot from the Larwill Collection is George Tjungurrayi’s Mamultjulkulunga (estimate $30/50,000), a classic example of his distinctive minimalist linear style and a feature in his first major solo exhibition at Gallery Garielle Pizzi in Melbourne in 1998 from which Larwill acquired the present work. The large canvas illustrates fields of narrow lines that ‘warp’ towards the opposite edges of the canvas, which relate to designs engraved on shields used in the Western Desert, as well as to a conceptualization of the physical appearance of the country around Lake Mackay with its parallel ridges of sand dunes.

In 1999 Larwill acquired Tarkul (estimate $25/35,000), a rare early painting by Warlimpirrnga Tjapaltjarri that adheres to the canon of imagery relating to his Tingari ancestors. Rendered in a stylized, systematic manner, the matrix of roundels connected by parallel lines illustrate his ancestor’s paths, creating a sensory mind-map of the country and a mnemonic for the associated song-lines of the Tingari.

Demonstrating his superb eye for talent, Larwill was far ahead of the curve with this acquisition; following his inclusion in dOCUMENTA (13) in 2012 and establishing gallery representation with Salon 94 in New York City in 2015, Tjapaltjarri has become one of Australia’s leading international contemporary artists in recent years.

The auction is also highlighted by Moon Love Dreaming of Man & Woman (estimate $30/50,000) – a rare ‘early board’ painting by Charlie Tarawa Tjungurrayi that was produced in 1971 during the genesis of the Aboriginal Art painting movement and was among the very first group of Western Desert paintings ever made. The painting is one of two 'early boards' in the sale that were originally acquired by Americans while working at Pine Gap, the U.S. satellite surveillance base in Central Australia. One of two versions of the story the artist painted in 1971, the whereabouts of the present version had been unknown since it was made, and it had not been seen by the public since it was acquired 49 years ago. The sister version by Tjungurrayi that bears the same title resides in the finest collection of early boards in the world, owned by New York collectors John & Barbara Wilkerson.

Moon Love Dreaming of Man & Woman illustrates bold iconography frequently used by Western Desert artists – the ‘U’ shape signifies a seated figure and is sometimes gendered as is the case in the present work. The attached line from the center of the ‘U’ shape represents a male figure and its proximity to the position of the second ‘U’ shape signifies a man and a woman copulating. The distillation of narrative elements into clear-cut forms is typical of Tjungurrayi’s early paintings, as he discovered his métier while displaying an idiosyncratic economy of style. He imbues the pair in the present work with autonomous life, and in doing so exhibits bravado equivalent to the most brazen artworks by European surrealists such as Joan Miro and Jean Arp.

Towards the end of 1992, Emily Kame Kngwarreye’s style became increasingly abstract, eschewing her mainstay early technique of creating paintings with layers of applied dotting; the bright and large-scale Summer Flowers II (estimate $150/200,000) demonstrates this transition period where Kngwarreye embraced broader brushstrokes and washes of color. A representation of the dry soil, wildflowers and grasses that are in abundance during the summer months, the ochre hues intermingle with subtle blue tones, hinting at the water underlying the land. Large scale paintings from this period and style are rare, with the National Gallery of Australia holding no works from 1992 in its collection of 22 paintings by Kngwarreye and the National Gallery of Victoria holding just one small painting from this year amongst its 21 examples.

Emerging from an American collection, Marrapinti (estimate $80/120,000) by Naata Nungurrayi is one of the artist’s most significant and breathtaking paintings to come to auction in recent years. Considered one of the most important artists from the group of women at Kintore and Kiwirrkurra who began painting for Papunya Tula Artists in 1996, Nungurrayi’s paintings have continually held the attention of curators and major collectors. Her powerful and distinct paintings have been included in many of the most significant museum exhibitions, including ‘Papunya Tula: Genesis and Genius’ at the Art Gallery of New South Wales in 2000, and major paintings have been acquired by the National Gallery of Australia, the National Gallery of Victoria, the Art Gallery of New South Wales and other leading institutions.

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