The first major Canadian test of the Inuit art market since the pandemic began took place last Sunday at First Arts. Despite a sluggish primary market and a recent lack of funding for artists struggling to create, sales were strong, with an astonishing ten record-breaking sales for works by a number of Indigenous artists.
Barnabus Arnasungaaq’s Muskox (1973) topped sales, reaching $84,000 when bidding closed and more than doubling the artists’ previous record from 2019, when Musk Ox Attacked By Wolves (n.d.) sold for $18,000 at Waddington’s Auctioneers & Appraisers.
The print Complex of Birds (1960) by famed graphic artist Kenojuak Ashevak RCA, CC, also doubled its previous record, selling at $31,200. Complex of Birds was featured in the second ever Cape Dorset Annual Print release, in an edition of fifty. This particular print was likely able to command this higher price owing to its dappled blue background, which is particularly bright compared to others in the edition.
Other notable record breakers include Tuna Iquliq’s sculpture Kneeling Woman (c. 1973-75), which sold for $33,600; Akeeaktashuk’s sculpture Striding Hunter (c. 1951-53), which sold for $52,800; Nick Sikuark’s Shaman (c.1987) sculpture at $24,000; Ruth Qaulluaryuk’s print Hundreds and Hundreds, Herds of Caribou (1975) at $10,200; Pudlo Pudlat’s print Man Carrying Reluctant Wife (1961) at $19,200; Nalenik Temela’s Dancing Bear (1989) statue at $21,260; and Kiakshuk’s Eskimos Rolling Imperial Drums at Shiptime / Work at Ship-time (1959) special edition print, which sold for $31,200.
Despite restrictions preventing bidders from partaking in in-person viewings, sell-through rates remained strong. As the first major event of this year’s auction season, collectors and sellers alike are hopeful this sale will set the tone for results moving forward.
Although some distributors have continued to buy art, many galleries and performance spaces are closed, meaning artists in the primary market have been struggling and in need of emergency funds like Community Cares. A strong secondary market, as evidenced by good auction results, can provide buying confidence to collectors and potentially help stimulate the market in a way that will trickle down to artists who are creating now.