How does the secondary market really benefit artists and what more can be done?

Confidence is the main driving force in any market.

When a masterful and large scale work by Warlimpirrnga sold at Sotheby’s in London last year for 167,000 GBP (more than doubling its lower estimate) it made international headlines. It was thrilling to see an artist, still living and working in Kiwirrkura, achieve such an incredible price for his work at auction - and in front of an international audience no less. It demonstrated a renewed level of confidence in the Australian Indigenous art market.

But there was also an immediate and short-sighted backlash following the sale, arguing that the artist and his family saw no direct benefit from this international result.

This is a common misconception; that the secondary art market, and in particular the secondary market for Indigenous art, receives enormous benefits from artists who see very little of that benefit in return.

This is a view I see expressed constantly through social and traditional media and it entirely misses the big picture. Not only has Warlimpirrnga’s works seen a marked increase in awareness globally following that result in London, but the whole Australian Indigenous art market benefits from the confidence generated by a result like this.

In this post, there are two points I’d like to make clear:

  • The art market is the most effective vehicle for Indigenous Australians to thrive and help preserve their culture in the world we live today.

  • The secondary art market is the main driving force that builds confidence in the overall Australian Indigenous art market.

My second point is somewhat immeasurable, but it is without question - people look to the secondary market to gain confidence in their primary market decisions and acquisitions. 

A healthy overall secondary Indigenous art market, with strong demand by collectors, filters through every facet of the primary market.

The astronomical prices which are so well publicised by the secondary market whenever we have a successful sale help generate this confidence in the art market. And in turn, gives a buyer the confidence to walk off the street into a Primary Gallery or Art Centre to buy an artwork – which directly benefits the artists and their communities.

But having said all that, I do believe we can all do a little more.

Though many artists are able to help support their families and their communities through the sale of their artworks, Indigenous Australians remain the most impoverished people in the country, with the worst outcomes in health, housing, employment and education.

Chronic kidney disease is a particular problem. Rates of end-stage kidney disease in Indigenous people from remote and very remote communities are up to 20 times higher than comparable non-indigenous peoples.

Treatment required is expensive, ongoing and can often mean people have to move far away from their remote communities in order to access it.

The resulting dislocation and loss of cultural engagement and connection to family and country is an incalculable loss for these individuals and their communities.

And so, the project I mentioned...

Not long ago, Vivien Johnson approached me with an idea to raise much needed funds for a dialysis nurse for a new unit to be run by the Purple House in Papunya. 

In 2004 Purple House, also known as ‘Western Desert Dialysis’, opened the first remote renal dialysis clinic in Central Australia and the organisation has been returning people home for dialysis on country ever since.

Due to an unexpected injection of Commonwealth funds late last year, the NT Government has built a brand new dialysis unit in Papunya and nurses accommodation. Located alongside the Papunya Tjupi Art Centre, the unit will be ready for use in October this year. The NT Health Department has asked Purple House to run these services and get people back home.


With no budget allocated to pay for a nurse and other running costs until their 2017/18 funding kicks in, Purple House is seeking help. At least $50,000 must be raised to open the facility in Papunya.

Vivien’s idea was to see if I could selectively put together a collection of paintings for sale as part of my Quarterly Online Listings in November, with 100% of the proceeds going to this much needed cause.

So that’s what I’m doing. And I’d like your help as well.

If you have any quality artworks that are surplus to your collection - these works may be in storage or perhaps no longer in keeping with your collecting direction, I’d be grateful if you would consider donating them.

Purple House is a registered charity so all donations generated from sold works will be tax deductable.  

If you’d like to help, there are 2 things you can do:

Or, if you’re not in the position to donate right now,

  • Share this post with someone in your network who might be.

I know that together, we can get this dialysis unit funded.

I’ve said this before: the best of Australian Indigenous art is as good as anything in the world. 

For Indigenous people, art is an integral part of life, community and culture.   Collectors both here and increasingly internationally, play a vital role in enabling Indigenous artists to celebrate their culture by building real confidence in the movement. 

Confidence is an incredible thing.  Through the combination of my artistic and sporting backgrounds, I have learnt that confidence can be passed on from person to person – teammate to teammate – community to community.  It is this confidence that can help drive communities to not only exist, but flourish. 

Here we have an opportunity to make a small contribution that will have an immense impact.  Keeping communities together, people on land, and leaders with their people.

I look forward to hearing from you.



Are you able to donate an artwork for the Purple House Dialysis Unit at Papunya?