The Arkley retrospective moved first to the Art Gallery of New South Wales, and then to Brisbane’s new Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA); in each case, a somewhat reduced number of works was shown, resulting inevitably in different types of shows.

In Sydney, the exhibition was accommodated in slightly cramped quarters on the first floor of the AGNSW (where the 2008 Archibald Prize was also showing at the same time). However, NGVA curator Jason Smith developed an interestingly different concept for the Sydney exhibition, leading the viewer backwards from Arkley’s late suburban images through to the final room of his first ‘white’ paintings. John McDonald, nothing if not predictable, again lambasted Arkley in his review of the show in the Sydney Morning Herald. A more considered response to the Sydney show, by Christopher Chapman, subsequently appeared in the June issue of Art Monthly. In Brisbane, the show was housed in the much more spacious surroundings of the Queensland Art Gallery’s new contemporary building, GOMA, and a more extensive range of works was included, in a broadly chronological sequence.

Renewed interest in Arkley, in the wake of the retrospective and John Gregory’s 2006 monograph, included substantial critical comment, but also fresh innuendo regarding Arkley’s will; in the September issue of Art Monthly, John Gregory published an overview of the recent attention to Arkley, including some pointed comments on aspects of the media coverage. Other significant publications included an essay on Stucco Home (1991), in the Queensland Art Gallery’s new edited volume on its contemporary Australian collection, published to coincide with the opening of GOMA: see Gregory, ‘Howard Arkley and “Popism”‘, 2007.

Auction activity surged in response to the retrospective, bringing to light a substantial number of works by Arkley (or at least claimed to be by him). The market continued to exhibit erratic behaviour in relation to his work, reflecting the widely varying quality of works on offer. In February, for example, a flaccid version of Arkley’s late 1980s ‘Own Your Own Flats’ composition, supposedly dating from 1987, but with a vague provenance and no exhibition record, was knocked down for $160,000 ($192,000, including buyer’s premium), at Lawson-Menzies’ Sydney sale (6 Feb.2007, lot 320). Only two months later, the perfectly-credentialled, coolly elegant late version of this theme, Urban Apartments (1999) – one of the eight canvases in Arkley’s final show at the Karyn Lovegrove gallery in Los Angeles – fetched only $144,000 (including premium) at Bonhams & Goodman in Melbourne. As they say in the USA, ‘go figure!’

Even more puzzling were the Arkley results from the Joel’s auction in Melbourne on 26 March 2007, where two works were on offer.

Joel's 26-3-07 cover

‘Family Home 1988’ (lot 37), which was featured prominently on the Joel’s catalogue cover (reproduced above), was talked up in a lengthy catalogue entry, claiming a Tolarno provenance. This work, a candy-coloured variant of a classic Arkley house composition, Family Home (1988), sold for a little over $400,000. Press coverage was extensive, most commentators focussing on the amount paid for the painting (still an Arkley record, at the time of writing). Katrina Strickland, in a piece in the Financial Review (headlined ‘Arkley goes through the roof’), identified the purchaser as Bill Nuttall, director of Niagara Galleries, on behalf of an unnamed private buyer, pointed out that the identity of the vendor was ‘murky’, and added that whoever sold it had ‘made a tidy profit’, given that the original price paid to Tolarno in 1988 was only $8,500 (Strickland 2007; see also Crawford in the Age, 27 March 2007, and Gill 2007). But this comment confuses the ‘original’ work shown at the ‘Houses and Homes’ show at Tolarno in August 1988 (recorded in Arkley’s files as selling to Melbourne dealer Peter Gant for $8,500), and the Joel’s variant, for which there appears to be no documented history prior to 2007 (hence, like other comparable works also apparently lacking a documented history dating from before the artist’s death, the Joel’s version is not included in the present catalogue). This is precisely the type of problem that has bedevilled the story of Arkley’s art at auction since 1999, and will continue to do so, as long as some auction houses fail to provide full provenance details in their catalogues. After comparing the Joel’s work with its original, the average well-informed viewer might be tempted to raise a number of serious questions about the dating and authenticity of some paintings claimed to be by Arkley.

The second painting auctioned at Joel’s in March 2007, Winds of War Graffiti 1983, a completely characteristic work with an impeccable provenance (first shown at Arkley’s ‘Urban Paintings’ exhibition at Tolarno in October 1983, later shown at Metro 5 Feb.2002, auctioned by Sotheby’s in November 2004, included in the NGVA retrospective in late 2006-early 2007, and featured in the discussion of Arkley’s early 80s work in Carnival in Suburbia), sold for a tenth of the price of the painting just discussed (for full details of the 1983 work, see catalogue entry). The art market’s vagaries  have rarely been made so plain.

2007 Exhibitions

‘Howard Arkley’ (retrospective) (reduced versions: for details, see 2006):

  • (i) Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 10 March-6 May 2007;
  • (ii) Gallery of Modern Art, Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane, 6 July-16 Sept.2007

‘Cut’n’Paste’, Peloton Gallery, Sydney, 18 April-12 May 2007 (curated by Giles Ryder)

  • (details of Arkley work/s shown unknown)

‘Australian Drawing Part 2’, John Buckley Gallery, Richmond, 23 May-9 June 2007: