On November 19, 2019 at Waddington’s semi-annual Inuit Art public auction in Toronto, Shaman’s Face (n.d.) a sculpture by Judas Ullulaq (1937-1999), doubled the artist’s previous record at public auction. After a tense and lively round of bidding that pinballed the auctioneer’s focus between the floor and the telephone bay, the price for Shaman’s Face rose swiftly above the auction house’s estimate with the piece eventually selling for $50,400. The previous record for a work by Ullulaq was set at Waddington’s in November 2016, when Shaman with Helping Spirits, with Inset Moveable Eyes (1988) sold for $25,000.
Shaman’s Face is an unusual work from the carver of Uqsuqtuuq (Gjoa Haven), whose works are frequently populated by spirits and other supernatural beings, and play with the grotesque, much like the work of his nephew, sculptor Karoo Ashevak. The expressive cutaway of Shaman’s Face is expertly carved, and the unique piece plays evocatively with light and shadow, creating labyrinths that are reminiscent of portals to other worlds.
Elsewhere in the auction, Big Woman (1976) by Jessie Oonark O.C., R.C.A. (1906-1985) sold well above estimate. The sharp purple, yellows and blues of this edition helped push the selling price to $11,400, nearly meeting the standing record for an Oonark print. Other Oonark works sold well last night including an untitled, double-sided wallhanging which sold for $52,800 and captured the attention of many of the night’s bidders.
Otherwise, the evening represented a buyer’s market, with work by notable creators selling quietly for less than the estimate. In May, Migration Boat (early-mid 1970’s) by Joe Talirunili (1893-1976) sold for a record $408,000 at auction but last night his works sold at or below estimate.
Yet, the strong performance of numerous carvings and prints from the 1940s and 1950s encouraged bidders. Many early depictions of hunters and mothers with children sold for well above estimate. The carvings Hunter Throwing a Spear (1953) by Akeeaktashuk (1898-1954) and Hunter Holding an Avataq (1950) by Juanisialy Irqumia (1912-1977), each sold for double the estimate, while Johnny Inukpuk (1911-2007)’s Crouching Mother Cradling Child (1955) tripled.