COLLECTING INDIGENOUS AUSTRALIAN ART - BEST PRACTICE
Provenance is critically important when buying and selling Indigenous Australian art.
The provenance of an artwork traces its history and chain of ownership, demonstrating the journey from its maker to the present day.
A clear line of provenance ensures the artwork has been ethically handled, the artist has been adequately recompensed and the market remains healthy and prosperous in the long term – all of which benefits artists and their communities.
Documentation that can establish provenance includes:
· Receipt or invoice with date from sale
· Community Art Centre Certificate of Provenance/Authenticity
· Transfer of ownership documents
· Auction history and inclusion in auction catalogues
· Exhibition catalogue and inclusion in any exhibition (private and/or institutional)
· Illustrated in books and publications
· Inventory numbers (both private and institutional)
· Documented appraisals
Best practice for buying Indigenous Australian art is set out by the institutional standards for the 3 market segments below.
Contemporary Indigenous Australian Art (1980-now)
The only acceptable provenance for contemporary artworks is a solid link back to the artist via their Community Art Centre, or on rare occasions their primary representative.
The Community Art Centres operate within an ethical and community development focus, establishing clear guidelines by which all artworks are bought and sold.
On the primary market, artworks should only be bought through the Community Art Centres or the gallery/representative that officially handles the artist’s work.
On the secondary market the Community Art Centre should be the primary source of provenance for any reputable Indigenous art dealer or auction house. It aligns with the policy of all Australian institutions. Any artwork offered for auction or private sale should include a proven history back to that source.
Modern Indigenous Australian Art (1950s-1980)
For works created prior to the establishment of Community Art Centres, such as bark paintings, Hermannsburg watercolours, Papunya boards and sculptural artworks made for sale, there is a less strict necessity for Art Centre provenance.
However, a proven direct link to the artist within this segment does impact the value of the work; artworks from this period that have no traceable history tend to have significantly less market value than those that do – even when an artwork is clearly authentic.
Highly desirable provenance for modern Indigenous artworks include Papunya Tula Artists, Stuart Art Centre and Maningrida Arts, or a clear line back to one of the primary collectors such as Geoffrey Bardon, Dorothy Bennett, Sandra Le Brun Holmes or Dr Scougal – who were all active in the 1950s-70s.
Artefacts and Objects (1800s-1950)
With artefacts, in most cases much of the important collection history has been lost over time. Therefore, as with modern art, a proven provenance can greatly affect the object’s value.
Provenance and due diligence information and research for this segment should be undertaken to ascertain where cultural material came from and when and how it left its country of origin before acquisition.
Best practice in this segment is to get advice from a trusted expert in the field before buying or selling.
If you have any questions about collecting Indigenous Australian art, get in touch.