How to Buy Aboriginal Art
What is the role of indigenous art centres?
Art centres exist to assist artists living in remote communities. They enable artists to engage in enterprise and participate in the art market. In many cases they help their members meet wider cultural objectives and obligations. They help artists sell their work to gallerists all over the world. They coordinate and organise exhibitions with galleries and institutions. They nurture artists, provide art materials and often coordinate between communities and remote out-stations.
Do I have to buy through an art centre?
No. A large number of artists have never worked through an art centre. This includes almost 60% of the 100 most successful and important artists of all time. For a large number of these there was no art centre within 100s of kms of where they lived. Many artists prefer to look after their own affairs rather than work through a collective.
Many artists live outside of communities or move in and out as ‘orbiters’ only returning to the hearth of their families for important cultural gatherings. Others live in cities and country towns where they can educate their children and enjoy greater opportunities economically and culturally. There are a large number of independent urban artists, many of whom have agents or gallery representation along the lines of the white representative model, and more than 300 artists belong to the Aboriginal Art Association of Australia (AAAA) making an independent living and engaging with the art market on their own terms.
That said, art centres provide invaluable resources to artists in the relatively few communities in which they operate and do a very good job.
How do I ensure best practice?
The Government funded Indigenous Art Code recommends asking the following questions before buying an artwork from a gallery or dealer.
• Are you a member of the IAC?
• Who is the artist?
• Where is the artist from?
• How did you get the artwork in your gallery?
• How was the artist paid for their work?
• If it is a reproduction – how were royalties or fees paid to the artist?
Ensure that the gallery and/or consultant you are dealing with is a member of as many ethically based professional organisations as possible. For example, our own gallery, Cooee Art, is a member of the ACAA, I Art Code, AAAA and AVAA. Each has rigorous and enforceable membership criteria and ethical standards.
ACAA – Art Consulting Association of Australia
IAC – Indigenous Art Code
AAAA – Aboriginal Art Association of Australia
AVAA – Auctioneers and Valuers Association of Australia
How do I learn about best practice?
Buyers should not feel that they are in an ethical dilemma when wanting to buy Indigenous art. Find a trusted advisor/consultant/gallery that is held in high standing within the wider arts community. Exhibiting galleries are preferred to retail shops. If they belong to professional organisations you can have confidence that their bone fides have been scrutenised thoroughly. To become a member, they must adhere to ethical principles and sign documents that guarantee their good conduct and best practice. You can find these standards on each of the advocacy body websites.
Are there trends in ‘contemporary’ Aboriginal art that differ from ‘traditional’ Aboriginal art?
The defining feature of the Aboriginal art market has been the accelerating change in consumer taste over the last 60 years. A large number of buyers will always be interested in the latest or newest art community, and the hottest artist of the moment. In this regard the Aboriginal art market differs little from the mainstream contemporary art market. Indigenous Australian art is made up of many cultural movements and specific regional art styles. Over time the leading exponents of each of these movements are the ones whose works become the most collectable. That said, the art world is full of mediocre artists who have made it and great artists who have not. So, it pays to take advice from a specialist or gallery with a long track record and a better overview of the history of the movement. Our own gallery, Cooee Art is now Australia’s oldest exhibiting Indigenous art gallery having been in operation for 40 years.