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Olsen's strokes of good luck

The Australian Financial Review Tuesday 22 May 2008, p30.

Katrina Strickland


The October 2007 show of works by his father John has been the high point for Sydney art dealer Tim Olsen since his move mid-last year to new premises in Jersey Road, Woollahra. That show took close to $5 million in sales; it helped that most of the works sold for close to $500,000, one for $750,000.

The dealer is on to a good thing again with his current show of paintings and works on paper by Melbourne artist Philip Hunter. The exhibition of 25 large-scale oil paintings and another 25 drawings and gouaches has grossed slightly more than $1 million.

Just over a week after its opening all but one oil painting, one drawing and one gouache have been snapped up, most ahead of last Tuesday night's opening. All 24 paintings have gone to private collectors, three to Australian's living offshore, selling at prices ranging from $5500 up to $65,000.

The art dealer is pretty happy with his nearly year-old premises, which is more light-filled and spacious that his former gallery nearby (now occupied by Joel Fine Art). He has secured former Sherman artist Tim Storrier whose first show with Olsen is expected in late 2009, and is believed to be negotiating to represent another Sherman artist, Michael Johnson.

Olsen also has another reason to be happy; as son of one of Australia's most renowned living artists his eventual inheritance has just been given a significant boost, thanks to the federal government's decision to introduce a resale royalty on secondary art sales in 2009-2010.

The government has not yet said what form its royalty will take, but an options paper suggests the royalty will be payable to living artists and their estates for 70 years after their death (in line with copyright). It also proposes that the royalty be unable to be re-assigned to another person or waived, and for transparency and accountability reasons, be collected only through a formal collecting agency, which is yet to be chosen. It is expected that Viscopy and the Copyright Agency Ltd will both pitch for the job.

The paper asks interested parties for their opinion on whether the royalty should be charged at a flat rate - it proposes 5 per cent by way of example - or on a sliding scale. In its sliding scale example, works that sell for less than $100,000 would attract a 4 per cent royalty, with the fee falling to 0.25 per cent for works that sell for more than $1 million.

A flat fee would give the greatest amount of money to artists, and is supported by the National Association for the Visual Arts. It is expected auction houses, which want to minimise the negative impact on the market, will want a sliding scale.

Olsen is glad of the royalty on behalf of indigenous artists, many of whom still live very poorly, but says he won't need the extra money when it eventually comes his way.

What about giving it away then?

'I'd love to sit down and create some kind of scholarship for younger artists, whether it be to study overseas or do something else,' he says. 'As far as I'm concerned I already have my inheritance. I had a wonderful childhood. I'm more interested in what I can give back to the art world.'

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