D’Lan Davidson is the head of Aboriginal Art at Sotheby’s Australia. After initially working as an artist in the United States and then owning and running a contemporary art gallery in Brisbane, Davidson became interested in collecting, which ultimately turned into a business. Since 2000, Davidson has discovered and repatriated major works of art from overseas collections and discretely consigned these works, as well as successfully dealing exclusively and privately in Australian Aboriginal Art. In 2008 Davidson was approached by the then director of Sotheby’s Australia to take over the Aboriginal Art department, and in 2010 this was realized. D’lan took some time out to talk to arts interview about the business side of the arts sector.
Interview by Alex Bellemore
The theme of arts interview for April is ‘Art & Business’. At an auction house art IS business. How is the Aboriginal Art market currently travelling, against alternate fine art and international markets?
Since the global financial crisis the Aboriginal Art market is now much more discerning – works of high quality, rarity and beauty with impeccable provenance remain highly sought after.
The market is still tentative compared to before 2008, however international buyers are now returning. This is a positive sign. Having waited for particular works to come back on to the market or finding a particular work that fills a void in their collection is also their motivation to buy.
Sotheby’s Australia remains focused on meeting the needs of the current and more discerning market.
It is worth noting that sales once comprised of 300 – 500 lots, however our sales are now in the realms of 80 – 100 lots. So the overall dollar value of each sale has reduced, but our focus is on the longevity of the art movement, which can only be achieved through this refining period.
What ethical considerations do you have to take into account when dealing with the Aboriginal Art market?
Sotheby’s Australia’s policy remains perfectly clear – we ensure that artworks created by artists that are represented by art centres have originated from these art centres. For every work that is selectively consigned to our sale, we ensure that each one is supported by authenticated provenance and the appropriate documentation, allowing us to draw a direct and ethical line from the current owner/s back to the artist.
What specialized skills do you have to bring to the workplace when dealing with a sales focused environment as compared to, say a director of an Artists Run Initiative?
Exhibiting works of art in an exclusive setting which ultimately highlights the works’ beauty, is something that we are focused on doing.
I also like to look at things from a fresh perspective. I see this current refining period in the market as being very positive and refreshing, both for exhibiting and buying. The fundamentals and foundations for the future market will be driven by enthusiastic and passionate buyers rather than from speculative interests.
Also, from past experience with working in the advertising industry and now working alongside our internal design team, compiling the finest scholarly and curated catalogues which are beautifully designed and laid out is also a focus.
How important is a solid comprehension of art as business for artists? Do you think many artists today are adequately aware of running themselves in some sense as a business?
Quite clearly many artists, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, are ill equipped when it comes to running themselves as a business.
I think it is very important for artists to understand and comprehend the business of art. Market is driven by demand and clearly oversupply will hurt an artist’s ability to sell in the short to medium term. In time, however, great works by distinguished artists will stand out. This is why the current market represents a very good time to selectively buy.