The Age
MD leaves auction house after a year
Gabriella Coslovich
January 5, 2008

Quoted from article:

Rod Menzies, the head of Australia’s art auction leader, the Menzies Art Brand, has lost his right-hand man, Adrian Newstead, who helped achieve a record $9.5 million in Aboriginal art sales for the group last year.

Despite his outstanding turnover for the company, Mr Newstead, an Aboriginal art specialist, has left after only a year as managing director of Lawson-Menzies.

He was brought in after Mr Menzies’ acrimonious split with former directors Chris Deutscher and Damian Hackett, who left to set up a rival auction house, Deutscher and Hackett.

Mr Newstead helped Mr Menzies relaunch as the Menzies Art Brand, comprising auction houses Deutscher-Menzies and Lawson-Menzies.

Mr Menzies declined to comment on Mr Newstead’s departure yesterday, but an emailed statement said the two parted ways by “mutual consent”.

Mr Newstead was more forthcoming, telling The Age yesterday that he did not renew his contract with Menzies because of the demanding work environment, increasingly high expectations, and, primarily, because he did not agree with his boss’s decision to drop stand-alone Aboriginal art sales this year.

Menzies’ dismantling of the Aboriginal art department has also cost the job of Aboriginal art specialist Venita Poblocki.

“(Mr Menzies) wanted Aboriginal art to be sold in the context of Australian contemporary art, and to a certain degree I think there is validity in that for the most prestigious Aboriginal artists, and that’s why I was happy to put an Emily Kame Kngwarreye, Rover Thomas and Maggie Watson (Napangardi) in the September Deutscher-Menzies sale,” Mr Newstead said.

“But there are a very small number of Aboriginal artists selling at that level and who deserve to be treated on a par with Jeffrey Smart. There are very, very few Aboriginal artists indeed whose work has sold for in excess of $100,000.

“Rod seems to think that I can sell $8 million worth of Aboriginal art (a year) by putting major Aboriginal paintings into four major Lawson-Menzies Australian contemporary art and important Aboriginal art sales.”

Asked whether he thought that was an impossible task, Mr Newstead said: “I didn’t want to do it ¦ Aboriginal art has been my interest and my passion all of my working life. It’s a personal thing. I had to examine my motivations, and I didn’t want to be cherry-picking the one great painting on a client’s wall.”

Mr Newstead said his remuneration was not an issue in his decision to leave, saying he was probably the most highly paid person in the arts in Australia. But the pay came at a personal cost: “It is a very tough working regime. There is no room for holidays, and sometimes we’d work week after week after week without a weekend off ¦ in the end, if your health suffers and you see less of your family, what’s the point?”

He denied that his departure had anything to do with the doubts cast on the provenance of certain Aboriginal art works that were auctioned at Lawson-Menzies in November, including some Rover Thomas works created by the late artist while he was visiting art dealer Neil McLeod’s studio in the Dandenongs in 1995.

“Rod never raised that with me even once. He would just say to me, are you happy about the provenance, and I would say I am 100% happy,” Mr Newstead said. He plans to travel, finish his book on the booming Aboriginal art market, manage his Coo-ee Aboriginal Art Gallery in Bondi, and spend more time with his family.