Records fall as buyers rediscover female photographers

Gabriella Coslovich, Australian Financial Review, 14 July 2021

It was back-to-the future last week as enthusiastic bidders rediscovered the work of artists from the early 1980s to the early 2000s, pushing prices far above their estimates at the online auction of highlights from the Pat Corrigan collection of contemporary photography.

Nine new records were set, and seven of those were for female artists, some of whom are receiving belated recognition in this era of celebrating women’s contribution to Australian culture.

“I am just so thrilled these female artists had new records set,” said Deutscher and Hackett’s contemporary art specialist, Lucie Reeves-Smith. “That should have happened sooner, but I am pleased that we were the ones to do it.”

All this renewed attention does make it feel at times as though women are a freshly discovered species. Nevertheless, it’s a satisfying revival. Seven bidders vied for Petrina Hicks’ stunningly weird Shanae and Jade, 2005, taking its selling price to $38,000 hammer ($46,637 including buyer’s costs), almost four times above its low estimate of $10,000, and a record for the artist at auction.

Anne Ferran’s Renaissance-like diptych, Scenes on the Death of Nature I and II, 1986, was also highly contested, with eight bidders raising the work to a hammer price of $28,000 ($34,364 including buyer’s costs) against a low estimate of $4000. This too was a record for the artist, whose last appearance at auction was in 2019, with the smaller work, Carnal Knowledge Series, 1984, which sold for $600 hammer at Davidson in Sydney.

Records were also set for artists including Rosemary Laing for Groundspeed (Red Piazza) #2, 2001, which sold for $32,000 (hammer), four times its low estimate, Anne Zahalka for The Bathers, 1989, which realised $22,000 (hammer) against a low estimate of $8000, and Julie Rrap for Conception, 1984, which sold for $16,000 (hammer), double its high estimate.

(Deutscher and Hackett charges a buyer’s premium of 25 per cent including GST.)

The auction’s top price went to market favourite Bill Henson for Untitled #117, 2001-2002, which sold for $45,000 (hammer), more than double its low estimate of $20,000. Not quite enough to make a record, but it was the second highest price paid at auction for a Henson. The record stands at $50,000 (hammer), for Untitled # 122, 2000-2001, realised in 2017 at a Mossgreen auction in Sydney.

Some of the works, though, went for prices below what was being paid in the early 2000s, including a suite of Patricia Piccinini’s curiously kitsch images featuring actor Sophie Lee. One collector bought all four on offer, with all selling for under their low estimates.

“They are so much of their time,” Reeves-Smith said, acknowledging Piccinini as a pioneer of CGI (computer-generated-imagery). “It’s nice to see that one collector bought all four and they’ll be staying together.”

In total, the auction made $538,000 (hammer) against a low estimate of $282,000, with all but one of the 43 lots selling. With 30,000 views and 100 active bidders, the auction was the most successful of the three timed online sales of photography from the Corrigan Collection that Deutscher and Hackett has held in the last 12 months.

“Pat was thrilled,” Reeves-Smith told Saleroom. “He was so funny, he said, ‘must have just collected the right ones’.”