Re-emergence of Emerging Art


Brook Turner Australian Financial Review, 15 November 2012                                                                        

It’s the collection that helped launch some stellar careers, and now it’s up for sale. In a further sign of contemporary art’s shifting fortunes, Shapiro Auctioneers will offer the ABN Amro collection, much of it acquired as part of the ABN Amro Emerging Artist Award, in its November 26 sale in Sydney.

The collection was founded at the end of the 1990s by ABN Amro senior adviser (and now chairman of Barclays’ Australian operations) Peter Young, working with curator Barbara Flynn who went on to create collections for UBS and Credit Suisse. The award was added in 2004.

The 40 ABN Amro lots are expected to fetch half the sale’s $1 million total estimate. Prices are likely to be closely watched given the sale comes just a fortnight after Mossgreen’s disappointing showing with the 200-lot contemporary art collection of opera director John Wregg and his partner Judith Alexander slightly further down Sydney’s Queen Street.

That sale, sparked by a tightening of the rules governing hanging works bought as part of self-managed superannuation funds in homes, sold only 60 per cent by both volume and value, or $250,000, including buyer’s premium, against a pre-sale estimate of $330,000 (without).

Dealers have warned of a growing threat to artist’s primary market prices as collectors liquidate their holdings ahead of the final date for compliance, July 2016, adding to the difficulties of an already tough contemporary art market.

While agreeing that it is unusual to have so much contemporary art hitting the secondary market, Andrew Shapiro points out that the ABN Amro collection was put together by two curators, Barbara Flynn and Susan Manford, who took over from Flynn after she set up the emerging artist award.

“A much more rigorous process was applied in acquiring these works, it’s artistic excellence versus bulk. These works re-enter the market with excellent provenance,” Shapiro says.

The remarkable thing about the prize and wider collection was the early imprimatur it provided to fledgling careers.

Ah Xian’s painted porcelain busts have become familiar symbols of a post-Tiananmen Square moment in Australian art over the past decade. But Flynn bought the two in the collection – one the prawn-bowl pattern cover image (estimate $80,000-$120,000) – more than a decade years ago, still warm from the kiln.

This year’s Bulgari Award winner Michael Zavros too was bought straight from the Museum of Contemporary Art’s Primavera in 2000. The cheekily named Executive Suite, detailing the body parts of the well-dressed corporate metrosexual, was subsequently expanded to 16 panels (estimate $20,000-$30,000) to fit a dedicated space on the first floor of ABN Amro’s Sydney office.

Hanging in Shapiro’s Queen Street premises, the collection looks freshly minted, testament to its pristine condition and Flynn’s original guiding eye. “I tried to make a selection of the best works available,” she says. “It does, to me, give that snapshot of the best of Australian art at that moment.

“And we always focused on as many young artists [as more established artists], at least 50 per cent of the collection, which helped with budgets but was always extremely important and fortifying to those artists. If you look at Ah Xian or Michael Zavros, those careers did skyrocket after those early purchases.”

The sale comes five years after ABN Amro was swallowed by The Royal Bank of Scotland Group. The prize was renamed to reflect the change in 2009, and ended last year. The sale of the collection follows that of RBS’s Asia-Pacific cash equities and investment banking assets to Malaysia’s CIMB for £75 million as part of a refocusing of its global operations after its UK bailout.