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A fine Eastern Pende Panya-Gombe African mask. Coll.: David Norden

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Australian Art

Enough Australian Art, I'll take the curry pie

DID the kadaitcha man - the much-feared Aboriginal witch doctor whose special shoes leave no footprints - finally point the bone at Bill Evans, the genial US-born tribal art enthusiast who's operated Sydney's Caspian Gallery for almost 30 years? We're not sure, but Evans is hopping onto his bike and flogging off his business.

By Peter Fish April 7, 2007 found at 

Caspian, on the ground floor of an elegant Arts & Crafts timber-and-brick mansion on Oxford Street, at the junction with Jersey Road, is up for lease as commercial premises.

As Evans, 62, describes it, it's a lifestyle change. "My theory in life is you're either going up, or you're going down," he declares.

His stock and collection is to be offered by the ubiquitous Mossgreen - seemingly the Macquarie Bank of the decorative arts auction scene - in Woollahra on May 22. There'll be almost 300 lots, ranging from Aboriginal barks to dot paintings, PNG and South-East Asian wares, through to oriental rugs from tribal and urban settings - perhaps even some of the owner's treasured Aboriginal shields.

As for Evans, he'll be dishing up a feast of Thai pies. Or more accurately he'll be focusing more on the Thai-style green, red and yellow curry pies operation he started with a former Thai partner which has grown into a flourishing business on Botany Road, Alexandria, with regular appearances in Bondi Junction Plaza.

Of course, being Bill Evans, he'll still be haunting auction houses and nosing around upcountry for Aboriginal art, chasing up special items for regular customers and finding new homes for various pieces. But from now on he'll probably just have an office in the back of Caspian Galleries - which in its time has hosted many a Sydney viewing for Melbourne-based art auctioneers Christie's, Sotheby's and Joel's.

Evans and his friend and associate, Mickey Brezney, launched the business in 1976, dealing in tribal rugs and textiles from a house in Avalon. Evans had become enamoured with the arts and crafts of Afghanistan and the Middle East following extensive travel there. They shifted to Woolloomooloo under the Caspian banner a couple of years later. And that was where they were first discovered by this columnist, newly returned from a stint in South-East Asia, and a then little-known business writer, John Alexander - now chief executive of PBL.

The Packer factor

Is Ros Packer about to emerge as a major buyer of Australian art? If she is, as the widow of Australia's former wealthiest man, Kerry Packer, she could certainly give already buoyant art prices a fillip.

Suggestions Packer was the ultimate buyer of Fred Williams's Water Pond in a Landscape II for $1.44 million at Sotheby's last November emerged in the magazine Australian Art Market Report. Reviewing the 2006 art season in the journal's latest issue, Annette Larkin - a former head of contemporary art at Christie's - says there were numerous bidders on the 1.5 metre high Water Pond but it went to Sue Hewitt on behalf of a client who was "more than likely" to be Ros Packer. Hewitt is also a former Christie's staffer.

It's not the first time Hewitt has been mentioned as an occasional buyer for the billionaire's wife, so the tip may be close to the mark.

Asked this week if she had bought the Williams on Packer's behalf, Hewitt offered a crisp "no comment". At the same sale she also bid on two Elioth Gruner beach scenes of Bondi and Coogee on behalf of a client. But she missed out, with both works eventually going to Paddington dealer Denis Savill.

Kerry Packer wasn't a big fan of paintings so there could be vacant spots on the walls at Packer properties from Bellevue Hill and Palm Beach to the family's Ellerston property in the Hunter Valley near Scone.

The Australian Financial Review last year named her as the buyer of a rare and curious kangaroo claret jug which came up at Christie's in London last July. The jug is 36cm high and modelled in glass with silver mounts, with hallmarks for Sampson Mordan, London, 1882.

Expected to fetch up to £20,000, it finally bounded to £66,000 ($160,000) and has apparently joined a number of other important pieces of silver in one of the Packer homes.

Fit for a queen

Suggestion is that Sotheby's has rounded up an extraordinary line-up of pricey artworks for its first art sale of the year, on May 7. An array fit for a queen, it seems - perhaps even enough to tempt Ros Packer into another major purchase?

Art market insiders are impressed to hear that the catalogue comprises a mere 113 lots but that the total value is around $15 million. That boils down to an average of $132,740 per picture, and would clearly represent a very pared down offering of high-value works.

Even deducting Brett Whiteley's anticipated $2 million Opera House, being sold as part of the Qantas collection, the average is something above $80,000 per work.

In contrast, most major art sales raise between $5 million and $7 million from a far larger offering of 250 to 300 lots, tailing off with lesser drawings and prints at perhaps $500 or so apiece.


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