Stolen art: the artworks left behind that don’t belong to you

Posted to the T, art, Haymarket 2, 7 October 2018

The stories we choose to tell are the ones that can define us. The stories we don’t tell can make us feel inadequate.

Graeme Lawson, filmmaker, explains:

Gone are the days when you bought art thinking that you would put it in your house and that was the end of it. If you want to own a work of art that ‘does it for you’ you are going to have to ask a few questions, find some very good experts to see if the work is owned by someone you admire and if you want a conversation about why that person would leave their work for you to love and admire.

And since the breakout success of The Christmas Chronicles, good questions for home-wreckers are at a premium.

The funding arm of leading commercial gallery Artarmy is marketing some of the work that’s left behind after their private owners have made the final sale and shown it at a number of places, including art fairs.

Some of the artwork may still be in the possession of the original owner, or may have been added to a multi-media art collection by individual collectors.

Ahead of the Sydney Art Fair, which opened in early August, I went to a booth at Asiacontent showing a range of properties, some purchased, some on the market, and a selection on offer from Hong Kong to Spain.

I should also note that there is plenty of art in here that isn’t designed to be sold at auction either because it is hung on walls, or because it is what the owner likes on a particular occasion.

So, while many of the artworks I saw had sold, I was still left with a sense of disappointment.

Disappointment because it is not clear that a home-wrecker is not going to seize the opportunity presented to them by accepting a work that’s a potential treasured family heirloom.

I am also disappointed because the work at the top end of the value spectrum – Renzo Fomicca’s Cappuccino Erupted – belongs to one of the world’s most well-known living artists (he’s even a Time Lord). The work is valued in the high hundreds of thousands of dollars (or even more). I have to look up the tip to Tim Armstrong in New York, in my inbox.

The works I see aren’t any more likely to be someone’s second or third home or some place in-between. Most of the estate sales offer no guidance or marketing. They know exactly what the work is worth, and that’s what they are selling.

Racist ramblings trigger action against Sydney art fair

Sydney Art Fair founders Thom Morrish and Helen Lee have both sold their first works at auction at auctions over the years and both tell me that they have left behind thousands of dollars worth of artwork.

This price point isn’t necessarily a bad thing. We artists have now got to a point where it is socially acceptable to be standing over a gallery price guide and telling the public how much their work is worth.

The art they are selling is on the cusp of transferring ownership to the people who will later have the chance to put it on the wall or frame and enjoy it for the rest of their lives.


Those kind of people that have the unassailable luxury of:

A flying wine collection,


The opportunity to capture another generation’s art patronage through their home art collection or private sale,

If you can’t get to the art fair I think you should go out and put your name down for it.

Because a family heirloom and a cash-flow investment aren’t necessarily the same thing.

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