Deutscher and Hackett claim 2022’s slam with an emphatic mic drop

Jane Raffen, AASD, 13 December 2022

After 2021’s roller derby-like pandemic-induced scramble, 2022 settled into unfamiliar territory: a boom-time pattern. Launching early and finishing late, Deutscher and Hackett devoured more than $52 million dollars of fine art, delivering a coup de grâce to their competitors' ambitions with equanimity, along with a solid haul of new and significant records, including Rosalie Gascoigne’s deserved entry into the million-dollar club.

Deutscher and Hackett’s pandemic triple crown

Not since the pre GFC peak have we even sniffed $50 million, and no Australian-branded organisation has ever managed it. Sotheby’s $51.5 million dollars in 2007 represented around 30% of the then overheated market. Deutscher and Hackett will succeed in taking a greater slice of 2022’s pie: with their last Christmas-timed ‘stocking-filler’ online sale just over, they are looking to gobble up around 37% of market share. And that’s three years in a row, folks.

No doubt Deutscher and Hackett’s strong showing in the first two years of the pandemic helped secure the two significant corporate collections that had their coffers overflowing by mid-year, with the National Australia Bank’s cache of 1970s works and industry super fund Cbus’ collection spanning colonial through contemporary providing a $20 million surety to their outlook.

These dispersals alone produced 24 new artist records in the Modern + Contemporary branded field the company dominates, including Margaret Preston’s 1929 Coastal Gums (Australian Gum Blossoms), for $613,636 – a 20% climb up her leader board and ‘an adjustment to pricing which is well overdue’, according to Chris Deutscher.

New artist highs are all well and good (great!), but it’s the big bucks that gets one past $50 million

So, who can boast? This year 9 sales over the magic $1M added nearly $12 million dollars to the tally with Rosalie Gascoigne’s million dollar turn out occurring in Deutscher and Hackett’s last major sale of the year. Beaten Track (1992) sold for $1,043,182 to a collector who beat five competitors; that’s just shy of half a million dollars betterment on her last best price.

Deutscher and Hackett, unsurprisingly, tops the list with 5 of the 9 records, all modern or contemporary: the Gascoigne, Sidney Nolan ($1,080,000), Ian Fairweather ($1,165,909), Fred Williams (year’s top sale at $2,331 818), and Jeffrey Smart ($1,227,273), one of the market’s most-traded artists. To this, Smith & Singer tipped in early 20th century impressionist prizes by Arthur Streeton ($1,534,091) and Ethel Carrick Fox ($1,196,591), the latter having been in the $1M+ company since 2008. Balancing old school European misty, they also manifested a bold Balinese Brett Whiteley ($1,104,82). And Menzies brought a tricky (academic) John Brack over the line ($1,043,182).

Lights, camera, action!, even if it is mostly armchair bound. Has the industry finally learned to love online sales?

For many, the pandemic brought a transformative eye-opener about the benefits of operating from home. This awakening also occurred for art buyers. Previews are one thing (it’s good and important to get up close), but once you’ve made up your mind, why not be at home? It’s not (all) about anonymity, as assumed by one auctioneer staggered by their sale’s online bidding ratio, it’s about convenience.

Leonard Joel’s John Albrecht puts it plainly: ‘it took two years of Covid for people to realise they could do something better with their time than spend hours in an auction room waiting for one or two lots to come up.’

And plenty did just that for Deutscher and Hackett’s February sale of the NAB dispersal, with Invaluable crashing and stalling the sale for 10 minutes, ‘a seeming eternity in the trade.’ The NAB collection was a product of the mid 1970s and the appeal of that period’s aesthetic has increased significantly in the last two decades. The sale likely attracted a whole new set of buyers, if not ‘a new breed of online buyer.’