The Migration, a sculpture from Talirunili's series dubbed "Joe Boats," soared past its presale estimate of $100,000 to $150,000 at Waddington's fall Inuit art auction on Monday night. It ultimately sold for $290,000 (including auction house premium).
The stone sculpture surpassed the previous record for an Inuit artwork, set in 2006 when another of Talirunili's "Joe Boats" sold for $278,000.
Created in the early 1970s, The Migration recounts a harrowing incident in which Talirunili — who was born in Nunavik, in Quebec's far north — and several dozen others became trapped on an ice floe while en route to new hunting grounds. They used sealskins, rope and wood from their sleds to build a umiak (or skin boat) and packed into the hastily created craft before the floe melted.
After several days, the group paddled to safety, but not everyone in the party survived. It was a traumatic incident the artist, who died in 1976, revisited in his prints and sculptures. One of his Migration works was depicted on a Canada Post stamp in the 1970s.
"To have one of the most famous Inuit works in the sale, and to set a new world record for it, makes this a very special night," Waddington's Inuit art specialist Christa Ouimet said in a statement issued Tuesday.
"The results continue to speak to the fact that this is a truly remarkable art form, one that is recognized by art collectors all over the world."
Monday's auction also saw the sale of works by artists such as Judas Ullulaq, Ennutsiak, Karoo Ashevak, Josiah Nuilaalik, Pauta Saila and Jessie Oonark.
Group reiterates call for Artist's Resale Right
Earlier this month, visual artists groups pointed to the huge discrepancy between what Inuit artists were originally paid and the huge resale prices on some works. Talirunili is believed to have been paid $400 to $600 for his carvings in the 1970s.
CARFAC (Canadian Artists’ Representation/le Front des artists canadiens) and RAAV (Regroupement des artistes en arts visuels du Quebec) reiterated a call for the federal government to introduce the Artist's Resale Right in Canada as an amendment to the Copyright Act.
This law, in place in 59 countries, requires art resellers to provide a designated royalty payment to the original artist. CARFAC is calling for Canadian artists to receive a five per cent royalty from all future resale of their work.
"There is no official law in place and so until that happens, as of right now, we continue with the same business model that we’ve always had," Joyner vice-president Rob Cowley told CBC News on Wednesday.
"Until [it] becomes law, essentially, we wait ... so that we can enter that with confidence," he said, noting that the Toronto-based auction house has, on occasion, worked with living artists on past sales.
"We certainly maintain friendly relationships where we’ve had that contact."