Days after a suspected cyber attack halted the auction the late Emily Kame Kngwarreye's Earth's Creation I, the world-renowned Indigenous artwork has sold for $2.1 million.
Created in 1994 and shown in art galleries around the world, the painting was bought by Australian art dealer Tim Olsen at the Cooee Art Gallery in Paddington, Sydney on Thursday night. Mr Olsen has recently established a gallery in New York on behalf of a client.
The sale was meant to go ahead on Tuesday before being postponed when the server hosting the live auction crashed, either because or a cyber attack or after too many people tried to watch the event.
"It has held the record for any work of art by any Australian female since 2007 when it was sold for $1,056,000 dollars .. and now it's broken its own record by selling for $2m (plus a five per cent buyer's premium)," the head the Cooee Art Gallery, Adrian Newstead, said.
He also said it was the second-highest price paid for an Aboriginal artwork after Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri's Warlugulong, which sold for $2.4 million in 2007.
In a statement, auctioneer Tim Goodman said "this may be the last time an Indigenous painting of this calibre will appear at auction for a very long time, if ever".
Kngwarreye was from the Utopia community in the Northern Territory and did not begin painting on canvas until she was in her 80s.
The highly-anticipated auction of Aboriginal & Oceanic Works was expected to break Australian art records, as it featured celebrated artist Emily Kgwarreye’s coveted masterpiece, which has held the auction record for a female Australian artist for more than a decade.
The estimated sale price for the massive painting was $2-3 million. Other prized pieces for sale included works by renowned Aboriginal artists, such as Nyurrapaya Nampitjinpa (Mrs. Bennett), Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri, Bill Whiskey, Tommy Watson, and Kimberley painters Rover Thomas, Queenie Mckenzie and Freddie Timms, among others.
The auction is the result of a partnership between Cooee Arts founder, Adrian Newstead, and Tim Goodman, a veteran Australian auctioneer, who was formerly the chairman of Sotheby’s Australia and before that, the head of “rival auction house Bonhams and Goodman”, as reported by the Art Collector magazine.
Mr Goodman left Sotheby’s Australia to launch Fine Art Bourse in 2015, but had to close the company due to financial difficulties and lack of support from the board. He relaunched F.A.B. 12 months later, this time as a fully online auction house model designed to “disrupt the traditional auction business model where buyers pay 25 per cent buyer’s premium, whereas at F.A.B the BP is 5 per cent”.
The auction was originally scheduled for Tuesday, but the online auction, run by Cooee Art Marketplace and Fine Art Bourse (F.A.B.) had to be postponed after an alleged “unusually high surge of traffic from international viewers flocking to the site at 6pm sharp" overloaded the server.
The auctioneers have appointed a cybersecurity company to work with the Federal Police on the matter, as the incident appears to have been a deliberate cyber attack.
Cybersecurity expert Professor Greg Austin, from the Australian Centre for Cybersecurity at UNSW Canberra, told NITV News that even though he can’t verify the allegations of an attack without accessing the data, the claims seem “highly credible”, as the “Ukraine is a major source of cyber criminality”, though attack origins can be spoofed or simulated.
“There are two separate angles relating to this story. One, perhaps one of the artworks in the auction is either an object of political interest, one of the registered bidders is a target, or someone wants to undermine a bid.”
He also explained that the second factor at play is that auction houses are often targeted by cybercriminals, “as some of the people bidding are very wealthy and accessing their financial details is lucrative for criminals”.
Prof Austin added that some auction houses don’t have high levels of security, which further lures cyber-attackers.
When asked what he thought the motivations were behind the attack, F.A.B. Chairman Tim Goodman told NITV News: “Someone out there does not want us to succeed”.
Additional reporting by AAP