A Guide to Buying Australian Aboriginal Art

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. aboriginal artistThe 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.

Nick**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.

10 Responses

  1. Yeah, I love Aboriginal art, but I would never pay for it, unless I sat there and watched the artist paint it.

    It’s the same way I feel about Brett Whiteley drawings too though; I would love to buy a small one, but I would also like it to be from the hand of BW!

  2. See my profile then comment on whether you think there is enough info.

  3. Dear Julia,

    Thank-you for your comment. I think that your profile has enough information to give a good first impression but you don’t give too much away which intrigues people so that they want to find out more. I think that you work is fantastic and wish you the best of luck

    Nicholas Forrest

  4. It will be very interesting to see what comes out of the recent Aboriginal Art inquiry regarding authenticity. The issues you have raised have been a major focus of community art centres in the Central and Western Deserts for many years. Galleries have improved out of sight over the last five years.

    Certainly most galleries, community centres and even online stores have been striving to do their best, but the market still seems riddled with fradulent artworks.

  5. The results of the inquiry will be extremely interesting although in my experience they will have little impact on the Aboriginal art market. The programs and procedures that need to be put in place have been known for many years now but due to politics and a whole lot of red tape have not been put into place.

    Nicholas Forrest

  6. Hi I am an Aboriginal woman and I agree that Aboriginal Art should authentic. However I do have a problem with you post and the problem is that
    1. you make full blood Aboriginal people sound like they are the real Aboriginal. Tell all the non-full bloods that they are not real Aboriginals
    2. Also they will not take the culture, history and dreaming to their graves. The dreaming is not static we will always have our dreaming no matter what, culture is not static
    3 also given that most of the full blood Aboriginal’s are in remote communities in central communities. does that mean that all the people on the coasts and all their art work is not authentic because they have white blood running through their viens. Don’t forget the assimilation policy and the effects that this has had on our people their culture and identiy.
    I know alot of Aboriginal Artists and their work is just as authentic as any work produced by any other Aboriginal person no matter if they have white blood running in their vein or not

    • i know what you mean. when i was walking
      at darlinghurst and passed through the
      aboriginal art gallery, named: art arteries.
      A group of people of with aboriginal descent
      passed by, and look at the windows and
      utter a comments, that gallery only buys
      at western australia, not in the city like
      why do we have segregate urban artists,
      from rural aboriginal artists.
      Or why do we have to segregate aboriginal
      art from mainstream Australian Arts.
      Look at Judy Watson Napangardi, Gloria
      Petyarre, Dorothy Napangardi etc, etc.
      They evolve life like any other artists. They
      are great Contemporary Artists. They create
      Australian Contemporary Art, not merely
      Aboriginal Art.
      thanks and best regards.

  7. I just discover you interesting site. I’m french and very fond of aboriginal art. I went in Alice Springs several times and I met a genius painter : Nyurrapaya Nampijinpa (aka Mrs Bennett). I feel she is the most gifted in Pintupi community, maybe more than the most popular like Naata or Ningura… but she is not know out of Australia.
    How explain that and what do you think about her ?

  8. Aboriginal art is interesting, recently i bought two paintings. The artist expressed the painting for us and it’s not just a painting but a story.

  9. Really great information post and I like it too much. Aboriginal art has become too popularity over recent years in all over the world.

    Thank you for sharing…

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