On Tuesday, July 13, First Arts held their fourth Inuit & First Nations Art Auction, a live virtual event that saw 10 Indigenous and Inuit artists break world records for sales. The auction featured 130 pieces from historical, classic and modern periods, and saw just under $1.2 million in sales.
The success of the live virtual auction speaks to the staying power of the Indigenous and Inuit art markets, even during a global pandemic. First Arts representative Nadine Di Monte says, “Ultimately what we found was a healthy high-end art market,” adding that the sale “saw 86% of lots sold, set several records, and saw a fair number of works sold to enthusiastic collectors for sometimes more than double our high-end estimates.”
Oviloo Tunnillie Swimming Sedna (1998) Stone 12.7 x 63.5 x 52.1 cmREPRODUCED WITH PERMISSION DORSET FINE ARTS COURTESY FIRST ARTS PHOTO DIETER HESSEL © THE ARTIST
The auction broke three artists' previous secondary market records. Reclining Polar Bear (c. 1955) by Elijassiapik sold for $38,400. Swimming Sedna (1998) by Oviloo Tunnillie, RCA, also topped the list, selling for $31,200—tripling Tunnillie’s previous auction record. Matching that number was Young Hunter with Captured Geese (c. 1954–55) by Sheokjuk Oqutaq, which also sold for $31,200.
Other record-breaking sales include Manasie Akpaliapik’s Drum Dancer (1989) for $26,400, Mother with Two Children (c. 1955–58) by Mary Sanaaq Papigatok for $24,000 and Mother with Three Children (c. 1973–75) by Yvonne Kanayuq Arnakyuinak for $10,800.
The other three Inuit artists who broke auction records did so with print sales. Taleelayu and Family (1976) by Ananaisie Alikatuktuk sold for $7,800, an auction record for this print and artist, and Tattooed Whale (2016) by Tim Pitsiulak and Owl (1959) by Lukta Qiatsuk sold for $4,320 and $8,400, respectively, both auction records for prints by the artists.
Ananaisie Alikatuktuk Taleelayu and Family (1976) Stencil 62.2 x 42.5 cmCOURTESY FINE ARTS
Aside from the record-breakers, unidentified artists also had great success, with Standing Mother and Child (c. early 1950s) selling for $33,600 and Standing Woman with Pail and Ulu (c. 1949–50) selling for $19,200. Di Monte says, “These outstanding prices are a testimony to the discerning tastes of not just today's collectors but to the enduring appeal of this early period of commercial artistic production in the Arctic.”
This auction was First Arts’ third to take place during COVID-19 restrictions. Di Monte says, “The biggest challenge was how to engage all of our community of collectors in meaningful interactions when we couldn’t necessarily do so face to face.” To tackle this challenge, First Arts utilized a combination of virtual material, including the release of a virtual walkthrough of the exhibition, along with 360-degree videos and virtual consultations. First Arts also provided public previews of the pieces for sale in accordance with Ontario’s COVID-19 reopening plan. Appointments for private viewing were scheduled in advance along with public viewings held in the afternoons leading up to the auction.