Is Ron Mueck The King of Australian Contemporary Art?

Is Ron Mueck The King of Australian Contemporary Art?
Detalhe de Big Baby, de Ron Mueck (1996)
(Cortesia Joseph Friedman Gallery)

Artprice, the French-based art auction price database giant, recently released a list of the top ten auction results for Contemporary Australian art as part of their fortnightly Friday Top Series.
Topping the charts is Australian born, London-based sculptor Ron Mueck, whose Big Baby (1996) sold for US$1,117,200 at Christie’s, London in June 2011.  According to Artprice, this was the twentieth best auction result for a work of Contemporary sculpture in 2011.  Owned by Kay Saatchi, the former wife of Charles Saatchi, Big Baby (1996) was sold as part of a thirty two work clear-out by the collector.  

The top price paid for a work of Contemporary Australian art in Australia, as listed by Artprice, is apparently the US$924,400 paid for Howard Arkley’s Bungalow (1989) which was sold by Lawson-Menzies for in 2008.  However, there seems to have been an error with this lot as Lawson-Menzies (and the Blouin Art Sales Index) list the sold price for this work as AUD$120,000 (including premium) against an estimate of AUD$120,000 - 150,000. 

Arkley does make another appearance in the list taking ninth spot with his painting Family Home 1988 that was sold by Melbourne-based Joel Fine Art for US$277,863 in 2007.  This price would be the artist’s auction record.

Three of the six artists in the list are Aboriginal with the top price for an Aboriginal work achieved by Dorothy Napangardi , whose painting Mina Mina fetched US$342,028 at Lawson-Menzies in 2008. Napangardi takes the top price paid for a work of Contemporary Australian art sold in Australia when Arkley’s Family Home is omitted.  Following Napangardi’s fifth place on the list are Aboriginal artists Lin Onus in sixth place and Gordon Bennett in seventh place.  

Rounding out the top ten is a sculpture by Bronwyn Oliver that was sold by Menzies Art Brands for USD$273,540 in 2010.  (Oliver’s suicide at 47, in 2006, shocked the Australian art world.)
With the Arkley error removed, Mueck holds the top three places in the list, and appears four times in the top ten, albeit with works sold outside Australia. Considering the artist has only ten recorded auction sales, it’s a clear indication of the popularity of Mueck’s work. 

Mueck’s 2005 sculpture In bed, a epic hyper-realistic depiction of a lounging woman, is currently being toured by the Queensland Art Gallery who acquired the work in 2008 for an undisclosed amount thought to have been between AUD$600,000 and AUD$1,000,000. Other Australian galleries who have acquired works by Mueck are the National Gallery of Australia, which bought Pregnant Woman in 2002 for AUD$800,000, and the Art Gallery of New South Wales, which paid AUD$215,000 for a Mueck sculpture also in 2002.