Pat Corrigan’s photo downsizing operation takes contemporary focus

Gabriella Coslovich, Australian Financial Review, 30 June 2021

The amiable philanthropist and former freight boss, Pat Corrigan, is selling another round of works from his extensive photography collection as he continues to downsize on his approach to 90 years of age. This time, there’s the chance to pick up some classics of Australian contemporary photography from the early 1980s onwards, with works by artists including Bill Henson, Patricia Piccinini, Rosemary Laing, Polixeni Papapetrou, Anne Zahalka, Julie Rrap, Pat Brassington, Petrina Hicks, Shaun Gladwell and Callum Morton.

In all, 44 works will be auctioned by Deutscher and Hackett in a timed online sale that starts today and winds up on Tuesday. The auction has a total estimate of $308,000 to $462,000 – not a huge amount, but previous online sale of photography from Corrigan's collection have proved highly popular and shot above estimates.

Many of the images in this sale will be instantly recognisable, emblematic of the late 1990s and early 2000s when contemporary photography was distinctly cool and booming, among them Piccinini’s futuristic mise-en-scènes with a young Sophie Lee, Laing’s flying brides and carpeted landscapes, Hicks’ bleached portraits of young women in odd interactions with nature, Papapetrou’s Lewis Carroll-inspired creations, and Morton’s slick digital prints of urban structures such as petrol stations and fast-food stores.

Photography is a fragile medium but almost all the works on offer have been on long-term loan to public institutions and kept in controlled environments, which means they’re in very good condition. All bar two of the photographs have been on loan to the University of Technology, Sydney, some for most of their life. Pat Brassington’s Voicing, 2001, for example, was loaned to UTS in October 2003. Julie Rrap’s Conception, from 1984, has been on loan to the Monash Museum of Art since 2005.

Henson’s works are among the most expensive in the sale, with estimates of $20,000 to $30,000, but there are lower priced lots starting from around $2000.

“They are great starting pieces for young collectors,” Deutscher and Hackett’s contemporary art specialist Lucie Reeves-Smith told Saleroom.

Or older collectors on a budget. Many of the photographs are priced at around the same level as when they were first sold.

The roulette of COVID-19 restrictions continues to disrupt auction schedules, with Sydney in lockdown this week, but companies are by now adept at quick changes. Luckily for Deutscher and Hackett, the Corrigan auction is being organised from Melbourne, with viewings at the company’s South Yarra offices from Thursday.

This is Deutscher and Hackett’s third auction of works from the Corrigan Collection in just over 12 months, and all have been timed online sales. The previous two, held in June and December last year, attracted strong bidding, particularly so Corrigan’s collection of black and white photography featuring works by an earlier generation, including Max Dupain, Lewis Morley and Carol Jerrems. The auction sold 97 per cent by volume and 225 per cent by value.

In other news, a muscle car worthy of a Ben Quilty painting was the subject of a bidding battle at Lloyd’s on the Gold Coast on Saturday. The 1977 Holden Torana A9X Hatch, a white beast made for the racing track, and one of only 33 built, with just 475km on the clock, sold for $775,000 (hammer) (Lloyds applies a buyer’s premium of 7.5 per cent, GST inclusive). Two bidders, one online the other on the phone, tussled for more than a quarter of an hour. The phone bidder, an Australian private collector and Holden enthusiast, prevailed, setting a new record for this model of Torana. Two years ago Lloyds sold a Holden Torana A9X GMP&A for $500,000 (hammer), suggesting that the market has increased significantly.

On a more delicate note, Bonhams posted impressive results with a suite of Tiffany jewellery sourced from a Sydney collector and consigned to the prestigious Asian market. Bonhams Australia director Merryn Schriever said she and her team regularly discussed Australian consignments with the company’s offices in Hong Kong, Los Angeles, London and New York to choose the most suitable auction location for items.

“A brand like Tiffany has a very strong following on the Asian market,” Schriever said.

The Sydney collector’s matching Tiffany diamond necklace and bracelet were the cover lots of Bonhams’ Hong Kong jewellery auction on June 20 and doubled their estimates to sell for HK$265,000 ($45,006) and HK$652,000 ($110,818) respectively (including buyer’s premium).

A Tiffany fancy purplish red diamond and diamond “Flower” ring from the same collector also doubled its estimate to sell for HK$1,815,000 ($308,252) (including buyer’s premium). The collector consigned five Tiffany pieces to the Hong Kong sale and all of them sold above their high estimates.

Bonhams’ approach differs from that of Leonard Joel which, as Saleroom has previously noted, wants to develop a market for higher value jewellery here, and in April sold Australia's first million-dollar diamond.

beyond the field of jewellery. The company’s chief executive John Albrecht this week appointed himself chairman, and promoted the company’s former chief financial officer, Marie McCarthy, to the position of chief executive. Albrecht told Saleroom the restructure would allow him “to focus on growth opportunities, particularly in Sydney and Brisbane”.

In his new role, Albrecht will concentrate on consigning single-owner collections and high-value lots, launching the company into a new league and going head-to-head with the auction world’s single-owner collection expert, Paul Sumner, who is working hard to re-establish his reputation after the collapse of his former auction house Mossgreen.

On Monday night, Leonard Joel held its second “Centum” sale of contemporary art, in Melbourne, and set seven new auction records, including for Robert Hunter with the painting Untitled No. 3, 2001, which sold for $40,000 (hammer), double its low estimate. Hunter’s painting was the night’s most expensive work in an auction that made a total of $635,250 (hammer), with 75 percent of lots sold.