NEWS

#27 FIVE ESSENTIAL QUESTIONS TO ASK BEFORE BUYING INDIGENOUS ART


Over the past 6 months I have noticed something that's going to be a major game changer for the Australian Indigenous art market.

The international buyers are coming back.

As this international interest slowly starts to gather more and more momentum, it is important to realise that Australian buyers still have significant opportunity – we have the home-ground advantage.

I’ve harped on about this before but it remains true that the finest examples of Australian Indigenous art hold their own against any other art form or movement in the world.

After a decade of negligible growth, this return of confidence will continue to strengthen the market – I don't think there's much doubt that now is a great time to buy.

But before we get ahead of ourselves, remember - quality is key.  

It’s extremely important to me that the people I work with make informed decisions about their significant acquisitions.  Not only does this ensure the artwork has the greatest potential for growth but, more importantly, the collector gets the greatest enjoyment from the experience.

Whether you are in Australia or abroad, before taking advantage of the current market conditions, here are 5 essential questions you must ask yourself before buying any significant Australian Indigenous artwork:
 

1.  Do I love it? - As simple as it sounds, this is the best piece of advice I could give any serious or budding art collector - if you don’t love it, forget about it.  The market got so tied up in the lead-up to the GFC, it lost sight of what was actually good.  During the past 5 or more years, the market has reassessed things and we are now seeing a more discerned approach especially amongst the most aesthetically pleasing and resolved works.  
If you love it, there’s a very good chance other people will too if/when it comes time to resell.  When a painting or sculpture grows on you and gets better and better as you live with it, this is also very good sign that you made the right choice.  A great work should give you enjoyment every time you walk past it. But even the best of us can make mistakes, and so it is important to learn from experience and grow and evolve as collectors.
 

2.  Can I afford it? - Believe me, I’m not one for talking when it comes to overextending myself to get the right work!  But this overextension can also lead to financial stress which is not good for you, the work and particularly the overall market.  You will note that when a painting is bought at auction and then re-sold prematurely a handful of years later, there is generally a loss to value – because the artwork loses its 'freshness' in that initial open-market auction sale (read more about the Real Cost of Selling at Auction here).  But the old saying rings true here – ‘No Pain, No Gain!’ and so if you have the means to get past that initial 'hit', then there can be no more enjoyable and rewarding place to put your money.
 

3.  How does the artwork compare to other examples sold previously? – This is where research and advice is essential.  Don’t just trust your own instincts - bouncing ideas off other people in the industry can really assist you in making the right decision.  A vital and inexpensive tool is the Australian Art Sales Digest – a yearly subscription will give you access to records of all Australian and Indigenous artworks sold at auction since the 1970s.  You can see how certain artists and artworks have performed over the years, how often they appear on the secondary market and auction records achieved for similar works.  I also like to find an artworks 'support level' which is basically the median price for particular artworks over the past 20 years.  And it is interesting to note that we still sit below all historical medians, suggesting stronger growth to come for the best works. 
 

4.  Will the artwork stand the test of time? - This is obviously a tricky question to be asking yourself, but having this perception can ultimately lead to greater satisfaction and interaction you (and the market) can have with any artwork over time.  Even though you may love a certain picture or sculpture now, does the artwork have the strength and resolution to carry itself in 10, 20 or even 50 years?  Institutions generally purchase certain objects or artworks looking through a 200 year window - how will this object or artwork be viewed in 200 years?  A great artwork should get better and better and should transcend all fashions and trends.
 

5.  Does the artwork have the provenance required to be able to resell? - I wrote a detailed post on provenance last year because it is so critically important when it comes to Indigenous art (if you want to read the full post, check it out here).  The wrong provenance can practically make an artwork unsalable.  This is not as crucial when you are simply buying a decorative artwork to hang on the wall, but when you are investing considerable funds into an artwork, you at very least need to know that you can resell it.  There is usually only one line of strong and correct provenance per artist (on occasion there is perhaps two).  If these lines of provenance are strictly adhered to, there is no safer place to invest in the Australian Art market.  If you are uncertain about a paintings origin, always ask for trusted advice.


Then the only thing left to decide is where will the work hang best to enjoy it the most.  Curation is the selection, placement and interpretation of an artwork supported within its environment.  This placement can have the power to greatly increase (even decrease) your affection for any particular artwork.  And for me, it can be the most enjoyable part of the acquisition process, because it is the immediate and intimate interaction between you and the newly acquired artwork.  

And even better, an artwork does not have to stay stagnant in one particular place – so let it evolve and revolve, but most importantly, have fun!


To request a list of major works currently available by private sale contact me on: dlan@dlandavidson.com.au

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