Earth’s Creation by Emily Kame Kngwarreye no longer belongs to Mbantua Gallery. On November 16th, 2017 we sold it at auction for $2 million.
On the face of it you would think that I’d be happy wouldn’t you? But I wasn’t! In fact, I was very disappointed – for many reasons.. If I was so disappointed, then why did I say “the painting is on the market” when the bidding reached $2 million? I’ll attempt to explain my reasoning in as simple a manner as I can..
Firstly, I had approached the auction with two independent valuations – one for $4 million and one for $3 million. Of course, valuations are not guarantees, but Earth’s Creation had been exhibited in the Venice Art Biennale after those valuations had been made so I thought it reasonable that the painting had the potential of reaching $3 million, if not $4 million!
I had been thinking of the sale of Earth’s Creation for a year or two before it went to auction. During this time, I had many thoughts about what I wanted to do with the proceeds of the sale. Eventually I decided on 3 sizeable donations to charities, after business debt was paid off.
The first donation was to the Mbantua Foundation. The Mbantua Foundation is a tax deductible foundation I put together a number of years ago that is designed to put together sustainable projects for destitute and under privileged aboriginal people here in Central Australia. Unfortunately, it has been fairly idle over the past few years. In part, because of the flow on effects of the global financial crisis and also that I have never really attempted to source outside funds (apart from two friends who donated $25,000 each a few years ago). However, recently I have been in the process of ramping this up.
I have for many years wanted to employ a full-time sports officer in Utopia. In the last few months of the CLP Government in the NT, I had negotiated with the then Chief Minister, Adam Giles, that should I sell Earth’s Creation for $3.75 million the government would match $1 for $1 what Mbantua Gallery would donate over a 5 year period (this was obtained in writing). Mbantua Gallery’s intention was $50,000 each year, throw in the matching $50,000 from the NT Government, and we have $100,000 per annum for 5 years. (There has since been a change of government, but I would be surprised if the new Labor government wouldn’t honour that agreement).
We are also currently in the process of building a website for the Mbantua Foundation. We have never had one before as we have generally relied on donations from Mbantua Gallery. These have so far totalled approximately $251,000 over the years (recent figures from our accountant). We are also setting a new direction for the Foundation (albeit with some old and established ideas) for a number of projects that need to be set up and gotten underway in some capacity. I intend to set them up as independent projects but all under the Mbantua Foundation umbrella.
The second donation was to be to Ars Musica. Ars Musica is the dream and creation of a very good friend of mine, Reverend Arthur Bridge AM of Sydney. On many occasions over the years he and one of his Board members, (an ex Chair of the Sydney Opera House), travelled with me on various art trips to Utopia. It is a foundation set up to award scholarships to kids who have musical/theatrical talents but lack financial capacity to pursue those talents. Father Arthur was, of course, privy to my intentions of donating to his Foundation. Unfortunately, he was in hospital over the auction period but we had many text messages throughout which have been quite humorous (if he agrees, I will consider putting them on Facebook as humour has to be an important part of our lives…)
The third donation was to be to a yet undecided Children’s Cancer charity. My heart (no doubt like all you) always goes out to kids who have cancer.
Mbantua Gallery had a business debt of just under $3 million. This is almost entirely on the acquisition of artworks.
I had instructed our accountant that should we sell Earths Creation for $3.75million we would donate $250,000 to the Mbantua Foundation, $250,000 to Ars Musica and $250,000 to a Children’s Cancer hospital/charity. If the amount should be less than $3.75million the donations would decrease pro rata to $3 million. Should it sell for $3,000,000 or under, unfortunately the charities were to miss out. I deemed it necessary for us to address the tax bill and our business debt first, leaving our business in a manageable position going forward.
So my disappointment in the $2 million sale figure is that now none of these donations are able to happen.
From the perspective of the actual painting – I was personally very disappointed that it didn’t remain in Australia. I was certainly supportive of Adrian Newstead obtaining an export permit, and my reasoning for this was purely that I hoped it would increase bidding, which hopefully would then have enabled me to accomplish my goals as outlined earlier.
Earth’s Creation is a magnificent work in itself – and when the cultural background and life of Emily is factored in, it really should be sitting in the National Gallery of Australia or at the very least, a State Gallery.
Putting aside my personal wants and desires, I am disappointed that those who have the financial capacity and love of Australian art and heritage, didn’t bid and secure it for Australia. Or that a government didn’t have some involvement to secure it, because this particular painting is so iconic to Australia. I say this emphasising the word disappointment rather than critical, because maybe it is just a few of us who treasure the importance of the painting.
So why did I allow it to be “on the market” at $2 million?
- I was certainly hoping that some good bidding would get underway! If I had have known that $2 million was going to be the last bid, I probably would not have done so!
- I have responsibility to my 20 or so staff members and a very large team of artists. That responsibility is to ensure that Mbantua Gallery continues to support, encourage and promote the art of the Utopia region. In this unstable economic climate, reducing debt in the business was the smart thing to do to enable us to keep our responsibilities. If I had kept the painting, I would have then had to continue to pay out our $20,000 insurance premium per annum, and service the bank interest for a number of years to come.
- Mbantua Gallery has downsized its space over the last few years which has left me no room to display it. It shouldn’t be locked up in storage but needs to be made available for public viewing.
- Lastly, it was time to be in someone else’s hands. Someone who hopefully will ensure that it is appreciated to the utmost. So congratulations to Tim Olsen, the new owner.
From the financial view of Mbantua Gallery – after all of our insurances, bank interests and commissions are deducted, we’ll pretty well break even or be a touch in front.
I’ve really enjoyed the experience and the ride of owning Earth’s Creation. 100% of the comments that have been made to me personally over the 10 years that we have owned it have been extremely positive. So thank you to everyone who appreciated us for “having a go”.
Once again, I thank everyone who has supported myself and my gallery over the years. It is my intention to continue to work with and to encourage the artists of Utopia for many years to come – God willing.
Lastly, if there are any philanthropists reading this who would be interested in knowing more about our Mbantua Foundation, or getting involved financially or otherwise, please get in contact with me. And don’t forget Ars Musica Foundation – Father Arthur would also love to hear from you and he can be contacted on 0411 289 954.
Regards to all.