How to buy indigenous art
From Albert Namatjira’s 1940s figurative landscapes to artist Lena Nyadbi’s painting that was permanently installed on top of Quai Branly Museum, in Paris three years ago, contemporary Australia’s Aboriginal art continues to be admired by critics all over the world.
In fact, the Papunya Tula Art Movement, which began in 1971 when schoolteacher Geoffrey Bardon encouraged the local men to paint a blank school wall, is now seen as one of the most significant art movements of the 20th Century.
Widely recognised as a unique and compelling art form, Aboriginal art spans a variety of mediums from works on bark, canvas and paper to glass and fibre. From the dot painting style that typifies works from the Central and Western Desert to emerging artists like Charmaine Pwerle from the Utopia region in the Northern Territory, Aboriginal art is as eclectic as it is captivating.
Aboriginal art expert and Mina Mina Art Gallery owner, Roslyn Goodchild says when it comes to purchasing indigenous art, particularly for first-time buyers, provenance is paramount.
The hero image displayed above is the Mina Mina Art Gallery in Brunswick Heads NSW
“One surefire way of knowing you’re dealing with a genuine product and its place of origin is by purchasing artwork from a community art centre, or from a reputable gallery that has close ties with one,” said Roslyn, a former part-time Aboriginal Art History lecturer for The Charles Darwin University in Alice Springs.
“The issue, however, is that not every Aboriginal artist in the country is associated with an art centre, so it can get tricky determining the authenticity of an artwork created by an independent artist.”
Since Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri’s “Warlugalong” fetched an impressive AU$2,400,000 in 2007 (which broke the world record for the price paid for indigenous Australia art), both interest in and sales of Aboriginal art continue to rise.
The Indigenous Art Trade Association (IATR) recommends potential buyers ask the following questions:
- Does the person stated as the artist make the artwork?
- Is it properly documented, with the certificate of authenticity and supporting evidence, such as photographs of the artist working on the piece, provided by a reputable source?
- What is the history (provenance) of the artwork? Where and when was it made? How has it come onto the market?
- Does the artwork come from a reputable source, such as a community art centre?
- If buying direct from the artist, are you paying a fair price for the work?
- If buying from a public gallery or dealer, are they a member of the Australian Indigenous Art Trade Association or the Australian Commercial Galleries Association?
- Does the business have a code of conduct for its operation and its dealings with indigenous artists?
- Does the gallery or art dealer subscribe to the ethics of a professional organisation IATR or the Indigenous Art Commercial Code of Conduct (AartC)?
- What is the reputation or profile of the artist?
- How does the artwork compare in quality with other works by the same artist?
- Would it be possible to re-sell the artwork, either with the current seller or at auction?
To help you determine the value of an indigenous work of art, IATR recommend you also consider the following factors:
- Artist’s reputation
- Quality and quantity of artwork
- Condition of artwork
- Age, size, history and background of the artwork
- Existence of the artwork in major galleries, significant events and showcase of collections
Whether you are looking for a small affordable work or large investment piece, the key to finding what is right for you starts with research. Take your time to explore the different art styles and mediums, which are a reflection of both the storyteller and the ancient landscapes that inspire them.