What is art worth? Often value can be attributed to provenance; that is to say, who owned the artwork in the past, whether that be the auction houses, dealers and galleries that sold the item, or the institutional and private collections that housed it. Or, one of Sydney’s most venerable
culinary and dining institutions: Lucio’s Italian Restaurant.
For almost 40 years Lucio’s has been Paddington’s salon carré; decorating its walls with artwork by leading contemporary Australian artists, including John Olsen, John Coburn, Elisabeth Cummings, Tim Storrier, Michael Johnson, John Beard, Hilarie Mais, Fred Cress, Salvatore
Zofrea, Ann Thomson, Martin Sharp, Garry Shead, Charles Blackman, Steve Lopes, Colin Lanceley, Ken Johnson, Imants Tillers, Margaret Woodward, Sandra Levinson, Robert Juniper, David Larwill, Euan Macleod, Jason Benjamin, Andrew Taylor, and Luke Sciberras.
Collecting can be instinctive or acquired behaviour; rational or manic activity rooted in mixed desires: want, need, fascination. For owners Lucio and Sally Galletto, the hunger began in 1984 with a single sketch on a table docket, depicting Ned Kelly and drawn by none other than Sidney Nolan himself. Lucio, incredibly thankful, framed the drawing and hung it on the wall; the appetizer of what will eventually become a feast of tableside sketches, paintings, ceramics and sculptures; both gifted and purchased.
Great hospitality and great art went hand in hand. ‘The combination of great food, great service and great art on the walls is, in my view, one of the best dining experiences you can imagine,’ says Lucio. No doubt, loyal customers and the odd international celebrity diner, including George Harrison, Al Pacino and José Carreras, would agree.
With the aroma of celebrity filling the air, Lucio’s collection will be of great interest to potential new buyers and seasoned art collectors of Australian art. More so, broad public recognition of Lucio’s as a staple ingredient in the country’s art scene value the restaurant, and its art collection, as priceless.
Lucio’s cleared the tables and hung up the apron at the end of January 2021, and its fabled art collection is now on the menu, served up by Bonhams Australia. The reservations are set, and degustation takes place on Wednesday 17 March until Saturday 20 March at The Bond on Queen Street, Woollahra. The final bidding for ‘LUCIO’S: Food, Art & Friendship Auction’ will be held at 2pm on Sunday 21 March with the bill estimated between $700,000 and $1,000,000.
The question to be asked is, will there be a premium achieved for these artworks in view of their storied pedigree? History informs us that great celebrity auctions are like theatre; an emotionally-charged environment driven by those desires mentioned earlier and a bidding war in place of
applause. With the audience left wanting more, premium prices are often achieved. Do you remember Russell Crowe’s auction? 226 lots sold for more than $3.7 million including buyer’s premium, at Sothebys. Somehow the public paid for the cost of fame, and a ‘divorce’. However, Lucio’s auction – most likely with a lowered buyer’s premium – is a celebration of ‘la famiglia’; a family of food and art lovers forever connected by shared experiences around the dining table, and the surrounding art that witnessed those moments, that’s worth the extra dough.
I have supped at Lucio’s over the years, and I have my favourites; I will be casting my eye and paddle over these oily delights. Will your favourite artwork be auctioned on the night? Will you be partaking in the orgy of the auction? Go and get a copy of the catalogue, view the works in person
pre-auction, do your research, receive advice and counsel but most importantly – if the price is right, for you – buy something you love; just like Lucio.
Mangiamo – Let’s eat!
John Feitelson is a publisher, art lover and gourmand.