A mercurial Lin Onus steals the limelight at Mossgreen’s Lowenstein sale.

Friday 10th March
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Written by: Peter James Smith
A mercurial Lin Onus steals the limelight at Mossgreen’s Lowenstein sale.
By Peter James Smith, via, on 09-Mar-2017
Mossgreen are specialists in single-owner sales. On a quiet night for their much-anticipated Lowenstein sale, a shimmering Lin Onus painting Frog, c1995 (lot 76) with all the wistful pull of captured moonlight proved that a canny secondary market audience is after fresh high calibre works that are modestly estimated. This painting is built on the concept of reflected light, glowing like a glass-half-full bridge between aboriginal culture and western pictorial construction. True to form, the painted frog almost vanishes in the textured painted layers. What a gem. It realised $60,000, just above its upper estimate. (All realised prices quoted include the buyer’s premium.) Compared to previous Lin Onus auction records, this was a modest sale. However for Onus, the records are held by works of larger scale and incisive aboriginal character.

On a quiet night for Mossgreen’s much-anticipated Lowenstein sale in Melbourne, a shimmering Lin Onus painting Frog, c1995 with all the wistful pull of captured moonlight proved that a canny secondary market audience is after fresh high calibre works that are modestly estimated. This painting, built on the concept of reflected light realised $60,000 (IBP), just above its upper estimate.
Indeed the night was quiet, for few works realised their top estimate; most that were sold were knocked down just above the reserve, so that with the addition of buyer’s premium, the realised price lay within the estimated range. In truth, the sale was a little disappointing (45% sold on the night) for the fundraising purpose of the Lowenstein’s decision to shed some 250 works from their substantial holdings.
The Lowensteins have been a mentoring mainstay for Australian artists for almost half a century and the sale was to raise funds to support a new generation of artists. It was the second half of the catalogue that fared badly as the sale rate was a higher 55% for the first hundred lots. At catalogue’s end, a throng of prints by Boyd and Blackman barely attracted a single bid. There will be many bargains at the reserve that will be snapped up in the coming days.
It is too easy in hindsight to say that some reserves were set too high. For example, the spectacular editioned bronzes by Australia’s master modernist Robert Klippel –Untitled RK672, 1987 (Lot 50A ), and Untitled RK753, 1989 (Lot 73 ) remained unsold on the night with lower estimates of $22,000 and $70,000 respectively—this seems inconceivable for works of this high calibre with many recent realisations for large bronzes above the $80,000 mark. Perhaps the market prefers Klippel’s more idiosyncratic painted wooden assemblages at this scale and price point.
Superb sculptures were a definite feature of the Lowenstein collection: The sinewy 210 cm high Red, 2008, (Lot 72 ) by the peripatetic Konstantin Dimopoulos sold well at $10,700 in the middle of its estimated range, while the equally brilliant steel, Perspex, cloth and timber sculpture Baobatwing, 2005, (Lot 51 ) by Richard Goodwin remained unsold. This senior artist is totally undervalued by the secondary market. Also surprisingly unsold was the modestly-priced stainless steel table sculpture, Ventex, 1981, (Lot 117 ) by Ron Robertson-Swan—an excellent work brimming with the angular modernist vestiges of the 1970s that were outlined by the rise of hard-edged abstraction through The Field exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria in 1968. This is a period that the National Gallery of Victoria is going to recreate when it launches a re-run of The Field under the banner of The Field Revisited, in May 2018.
In the week before the Lowenstein sale there was a flurry of social media comment on the risqué nature of the Charles Blackman painting of two women and the accompanying trademark cat, (Lot 62 ) that graced, quite literally, the cover of the Lowenstein catalogue. All news is good news in the auction world and the publicity meant that this work found a new home realising $55,600—a comfortable Blackman price. The bidding emanating from the telephones was perhaps not quite as frantic as expected.
For this writer, the most satisfying results were achieved by solid examples of the generation of Contemporary artists that inevitably will follow Boyd, Nolan, Tucker and Blackman to be the future mainstay of the secondary market. There were great realisations of works by: Imants Tillers (Lot 31 ) $35,000; Janet Lawrence (Lot 85 ) $12,600; Ben Quilty (Lot 87 ) $24,000; Tim Storrier (Lot 7 ) $22,700; Paul Boston (Lot 23 ) $11,000; Jenny Watson (Lot 140 ) $6,900 and even Melinda Harper (Lot 27 ) at $5,500.
It is an extraordinary thing that in the USA, Europe, India, China, United Kingdom and even New Zealand, Contemporary Art has had the leading edge and been the darling of the secondary market. For example, last September the single owner Tim & Sherrah Francis two day sale of their Contemporary Art Collection at Art+Object in Auckland, New Zealand, realised $NZ5.5 million by the end of Day 1, surpassing many New Zealand records. Inevitably Australia will follow this trend as Contemporary Art continues to be well bought and well supported in the primary market through gallerists and their art fairs—and through the diligent assistance of collectors and advisors such as the Lowensteins. This Contemporary work will then inevitably find its way into the secondary market en masse through the laws of hatches, taxes, matches and dispatches. Mossgreen are onto this, and have announced a new series of Contemporary Art sales commencing in Sydney in May 2017.
Sale Referenced: The Lowenstein Collection of Modern & Contemporary Australian Art, Mossgreen Auctions, Melbourne, 07/03/2017
About The Author
Peter James Smith is an established professional artist and writer based in Melbourne. Until his retirement from academia, he was Professor of Mathematics and Art and Head, School of Creative Media at RMIT University. He holds a Doctorate in Mathematical Modelling and three Masters Degrees in Mathematics, Statistics and Fine Art.