A Guide to Buying Australian Aboriginal Art
Australian Aboriginal art has been thrust into the limelight of the world stage in recent years due to a combination of culture, history, and aesthetic originality that has captured the eye and imagination of collectors and investors world wide. The recent addition of a new Australian Aboriginal art exhibition to the Musee Du Quai Branly in Paris, which included the commissioning of six Aboriginal artists to paint areas of the outside walls and doors of the museum, has confirmed the cult status that Aboriginal art is currently experiencing in the art world
Because of the popularity of Aboriginal art there has been an increase in the number of Aboriginal artists and consequently, an increase in the number of works being produced. The tendency for some Aboriginal artists to paint a poor quality work for a quick buck has seen a large number of very poor works of questionable origin become readily available. As the majority of traditional Aboriginal artists have lived their lives in remote and isolated areas they are not aware of western culture and practices which has allowed some unscrupulous dealers to exploit them. Through bribery and abuse many Aboriginal artists have been forced to produce poor quality works for fast money, and produce fraudulent works of questionable origin and authenticity. Although these unethical practices have tainted the Aboriginal art market some what, it has created greater awareness of the importance of ethical practice within this market and emphasised the need for a greater amount of care and scrutiny when purchasing a piece of Australian Aboriginal art.
In order to ensure that you are purchasing an authentic piece of Australian Aboriginal art that has been ethically sourced you need to keep in mind that:
1. A large number of works are being produced by Aboriginal artists which means that the best works will always be a better investment, as even a poor work by the most sought after artist will always be a poor work in the eyes of the market.
2. Authenticity has proven to be a major problem for the Aboriginal art market with fakes and forgeries becoming more and more prevalent. A certificate of authenticity and a photo of the artist holding a painting does not necessarily guarantee authenticity as anyone with a computer and a printer can print a certificate and a small bribe can result in a photo with an artist holding a painting that isn’t their work.
3. The art market is very sensitive towards issues of unethical behaviour so because of the poor treatment that many Aboriginal artists have experienced it is extremely important to ensure that you purchase art works from a reputable, well known dealer whose works are ethically sourced and if possible come directly from a community centre with the documentation from the community centre.
4. Most reputable dealers should be able to provide you with a series of photos showing the artist actually painting the work from start to finish as opposed to one photo of the artist holding the finished product as further proof that the painting was actually painted by that artist. If a series of progress photos is not available then you should ensure the other forms of authentication are genuine.
5. All works should come with a certificate of authenticity which should make reference to the particular work that you have purchased and have details of the dealers credentials and business as well as a picture of the artwork.
The final check should come in the form of general common sense with the old saying “if it seems too good to be true it probably is” of particular importance and relevance. The Aboriginal art market still has a lot of depth in it and continues to go from strength to strength. A number of artists of the last generation of full blood Aboriginal people are still painting, which means that now is a good time to invest in a work by one of these artists because once they’re gone, they’re gone for good. This last generation of full blood Aboriginal artists who are getting on in years, will take the culture, history and dreaming, which the whole tradition is based on with them to the grave. This means that good works by senior Aboriginal artists such as Ronnie Tjampitjimpa, Ningura Napurrula, Willy Tjungurrayi, George Ward Tjungurrayi , Gloria Petyarre, Makinti Napanangka and Judy Watson Napangardi who are still alive, will be highly regarded and sought after in the years to come.
**Nicholas Forrest is an art market analyst, art critic and journalist based in Sydney, Australia. He is the founder of artmarketblog.com, writes the art column for the magazine Antiques and Collectibles for Pleasure and Profit and contributes to many other publications.