The market value of heritage Inuit art varies greatly. The price of works by the same artist alone may vary by up to 50 times depending on various factors (merits of work of art, size, subject, materials, age, the popularity of the artist, etc.). This market analysis is based on Walker’s and Waddington’s bi-annual auction catalogues and sales.
The highest price for an Inuit work of art that I am aware of is Joe Talirunili’s (1893-1976) Migration Boat which sold for $290K at Waddington’s Auction (Toronto) in 2012.
There are a number of prints and textiles that have sold for more than $60K. Some of these are from the first stone cut prints from the early 1960s. An example is Niviaksiak (1908-1959) who was a renowned sculptor from Cape Dorset and one of the first Inuk to make prints, some of which have sold for $65K.
Niviaksiak - The Archer, 1960
Another favorite among collectors is Jessie Oonark (1934-2010) of Baker Lake who was a textile/graphic artist whose brightly coloured wall hangings from the 1970s have sold for $60K. Another auction star is Kenojuak Ashevak (1927-2013) of Cape Dorset whose prints have sold for up to $50K.
Kenojuak Ashevak, The Enchanted Owl
There are also several Inuit artists that are “superstars” even though the auction prices do not reflect the cultural importance of their sculptures. First and foremost is Karoo Ashevak (1940-1974) of Spence Bay who is the Picasso of the Arctic, however, his sculptures often sell for under $40K.
Karoo Ashevak - Spirits, 1970
John Tiktak (1920-1980) and John Kavik (1897-1993), both from Rankin Inlet, are artistic Inuit superstars whose minimalist sculptures surprisingly sometimes sell for only $5K and 10K respectively. In recent auctions the minimalist sculptures of Andy Miki (1918-1983) of Arivat have been popular and recently a sculpture sold for $33K. Another artist of great significance and growing popularity is Judas Ullulaq (1937-1999) of Gjoa Haven whose major abstracted pieces are selling for $15K.
John Tiktak, Smiling Inuk
Here are a couple of other Inuit artists whose sculptures have sold in the range of $40K. A Kiawak Ashoona (1938-2014) from Cape Dorset had a sculpture (1960 lime green stone) sell for $40K. Another important artist is Pauta Saila (1916-2009) of Cape Dorset whose dancing bears sell at auction for $40K. While dancing bears are popular in the contemporary Inuit art markets and tourist trade, Paula’s bears are the original inspiration and show his widespread influence on Inuit art.
Pauta Saila, Dancing Bear
There are a number of early Inuit artists whose sculptures have sold for $20K to $30K. Kaka Ashoona (1928-1996) Cape Dorset $25K. Mariam Nanurluk Qiyuk (1933-) of Baker Lake $20K. Osuitok Ipeelee (1923-2005) of Cape Dorset $25K. Josiah Nuilaakik (1928-2005) of Baker Lake $28K. These prices are for the best works of these sculptors in terms of subject, stone and master carving skills.
Three Inuit sculptors whose sculptures sell for $10K to $20K include Miriam Nanurluk Qiyuk (1933-) of Baker Lake, Kiakshuk (1886-1966) of Cape Dorset and Johnny Inukpuk (1911-2007) of Inukjuak. There are many Inuit artists whose sculptures sell for $5K to $10K but generally these sell based on the quality of the sculpture (subject, size, stone, style, sculpting skills) as well as the popularity of the artist amongst the most serious collectors. Subject is very important. Many heritage sculptures sell for $1K to $5K and for these sculptures the age, subject, stone and quality of the sculpture is far more important than the artist name or disk number carved into the bottom.
I am certain that I have missed significant Inuit artists whose greatest works are in museum collections or are held for decades in private collections.
And I know from my travels across Canada that there are many large sculptures by contemporary artists being priced in galleries for $20K to $40K.
Let me know who you think are the greatest Inuit artists; famous or not. Try to include an image of their art when contacting me.