Aboriginal Art: Investing in Australian Aboriginal Art

Investing in Aboriginal Art

Australian Aboriginal art has seen an unprecedented increase in popularity over recent years and this is not restricted to its native country.

Internationally recognized as a unique form of art, it is welcomed overseas and respected and admired by art critics everywhere.

Of late, it has also come to the attention of not only art investors but also to the wider audience, as astute buyers realize its potential in the marketplace.

Hailed as arguably the last great art movement, works produced emanate from a 40,000 year Culture and Tradition.

Whilst steeped in what was originally viewed as ethnographic historics, the works produced are very often amazingly modern in design and colour and therefore aesthetically pleasing.

Investable Aboriginal Art

In Australia, Aboriginal art is the most fashionable genre of art and is far more in demand than any other kind represented in the art place.

Many important Australian Art Galleries have devoted and converted over 60 percent of their retail premises to showcasing Aboriginal art. As sales via the major Auction Houses in Australian capital cities will confirm, Aboriginal art is a best seller.

Worldwide interest is rapidly rising, as the Musee du quai Branley in Paris, instigated by French President Jacques Chirac will attest. Now may be the best time to invest, as prices are dramatically rising, and wise investment will surely guarantee excellent returns.

Investable Contemporary Aboriginal Art

It is important to always carefully research before investing in any commodity and art is no different.

With the amount of information available, it is relatively easy to gather career data pertaining to the Australian Aboriginal artists and then you can start to recognize which artists are producing quality paintings that are known to sell well and are in demand.

Aboriginal art can be a wise investment but one must choose prudently. Works produced by well-known and respected artists has grown in market value considerably over the past few years and can achieve a substantial return if skilfully selected.

A work by renowned artist Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri titled “Warlugalong” fetched an impressive AU$2,400,000.00 in Sotheby’s auction Melbourne 2007, setting a benchmark for return on original outlay to the vendor.

Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri's painting Warlugulong

Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri’s painting Warlugulong broke the world record for the price paid for Australian Aboriginal art.

Most investors prefer a diversified portfolio, particularly those who base their purchases through a self managed Superannuation Fund. With Aboriginal Art, this is an extremely easy task.

The art is country based – that is to say, the artists proudly depict only the images and stories of their particular region. The desert artists in the main use acrylic medium, in a myriad of colours and techniques.

In other areas such as the Kimberley in Western Australia and Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory, natural ochre pigment is used. In this regard, investors should be familiar with the communities and regions where the artists reside, and therefore the style of artwork produced.

These are unique and individual artworks created by members of the oldest indigenous culture in the world. It is exciting to be part of their culture and share their stories of survival and be comforted by the fact that what you are buying is not only an investment, but a piece of history.

As well as style of works, one should also consider further diversification to include emerging artists with a proven track record and high popular demand, as their works will be less expensive than the established artists and the probability of high dividends for lesser outlay is a sensible decision.

Normally, age is not relevant as to quality of the artwork; however in Aboriginal art great importance is placed on age and the tribal elders are highly respected so it becomes especially significant that all aspects are encompassed – style, medium, status of artist and age of artist. A body of works including all of these categories is desirable.

When investing in Aboriginal art, provenance is of the highest importance.

This will ultimately decide the value of the work. Written documented provenance is paramount. This is normally via a Certificate of Authenticity provided by the seller, guaranteeing that the work is by the stated artist.

Further details such as the title of the painting, information on the story of the painting, a biography of the artist including their Collections and Exhibitions and other achievements normally accompany a purchase from a reputable Seller.

Images of the artist executing the artwork and holding the completed work do not prove authenticity, however they are of immense interest and again, the best suppliers of artworks offer these where it is possible.

A purchaser must take into consideration the conditions under which the artwork was executed and the willingness of the artist (some of whom are very shy) in order to assess the importance of photographs. At the end of the day, the recognised technique of the artist is the ultimate proof of authenticity.

When purchasing, one must have confidence in the seller of the artwork with regards to authenticity and value. In this regard, many factors must be considered.

When purchasing from a Gallery or Dealer, assess their credentials as to length of time in the industry, membership with recognised associations, and their attitude in selling. Ask yourself the questions – is this organisation offering good quality works, are the prices correct within the scope of the standing of the artist, are they being truthful with advice as to the particular need of the client.

When purchasing on line, ensure there is a non-conditional money back guarantee if the artwork is not suitable for your needs or does not meet your expectations. Art Centre provenance in the main is a safe harbour, however purchases directly from community based art centres do not necessarily ensure best investment quality.

Bear in mind, the Aboriginal artworks that have achieved highest prices through major auctions have not originated at art centres and provenance from a reputable gallery or dealer is also highly regarded.

Here we have possibly the most important consideration of authenticity – the known association of the original purchaser of the artwork with the artist. Be assured of this scenario when assessing the value of works by such renowned artists as Rover Thomas, Emily Kngwarreye, Minnie Pwerle, Jack Britten and Clifford Possum Tjapaltjari.

One of the basic considerations when choosing a painting is that you actually like it – you want it on your wall – it pleases you. Many people discount this fact when their initial or primary objective is investment – however, the ultimate is to purchase investment art of which you are proud.

Rule of thumb is not to purchase your art quickly – enjoy the research and the knowledge of the artist you have gleaned from your trusted suppliers. In this way, collecting is not merely an investment – it is also a very personal and exhilarating and rewarding experience.

Also research the careers of the European Masters – compare them with the Aboriginal artists. Consider which period of the artist’s career has produced the best and most sought after works. For instance, if one considers an artist such as Van Gogh, ‘The Starry Night’ or ’Sunflowers’ command far higher prices than many of his other paintings.

Once you are happy that you have found suppliers in whom you have faith, your personal favourite artists, their potential or past achievements such as works hanging in eminent and distinguished art galleries, museums or art collections, then you can be sure you have done your absolute best and you are ready to embark on a successful and rewarding project.


Important Note: updated July 2015

It should be noted that this article was written some years ago during the unprecedented growth and interest in Aboriginal Art.

Due to the global financial crisis in 2008/09 coupled with the ebbs and flows any market in any industry goes through, the Indigenous Art market has seen a prolonged slowing of growth and a significant correction over the last few years.

It’s very important to understand that this effects mainly the top end of the market and those artworks that are sold through auction houses and major exhibitions.

The middle and lower ends of the market remain quite stable and whilst they didn’t seed the meteoric rise in value some artworks did a few years ago, they on the flip side have not been as badly effected compared to the artworks that are commented on publicly by magazines and newspapers.

There is no doubt though that it is very much a buyers market right now and there are some exceptional bargains to be had in all areas of the market.

For 95% of Aboriginal Art enthusiasts the downturn has little effect outside of being able to get really good deals on excellent artworks.

If you bought a major piece at an auction house in 2007 then most likely we can’t say the same thing and that collector will be waiting this one out no doubt but for the rest of us the market is stable and offering exceptional works at the best prices you’ll find for the next 30 years!

And remember, always buy what you like so when it is hanging on your wall, the current state of the resale market is the last thing on your mind.