Collectors’ Focus Indigenous art of Australia Emma Crichton-Miller In 2008, the market for Indigenous Australian art collapsed in the wake of the global financial crisis. This spring saw the first shoots of recovery as prices started to strengthen, but saleroom results are still relatively conservative. Could this be an ideal time to invest?
1. Wild Yam 2, 1995, Emily Kame Kngwarreye (c. 1910–96), synthetic polymer paint on canvas, 150 × 240cm. Sotheby’s London, June 2015, £100,000
Indigenous art reaches back over 40,000 years in Australia, but it was the emergence of ‘dot’ paintings by the Aboriginal people of the Western Desert in Central Australia in the early 1970s, encouraged by the art teacher Geoffrey Bardon, that initiated a new phase of creativity and kick-started a market. Bardon encouraged the elders he met, many of whom had encountered white Australians only in adulthood, to translate into acrylic paint and canvas such ancient Aboriginal art forms as sand mosaics and body painting. Within 30 years their mappings
of ancestral territories and charting of the land’s Dreaming stories – begun as strenuous efforts to communicate their culture to an alien civilisation – had become sought-after commodities in the global art market. As well as providing much-needed employment for Indigenous peoples, these paintings sustained a subsidiary economy of artists’ centres, galleries and dealers and were exhibited widely across the world.
In the years running up to the global financial crisis, astonishing prices were achieved at auction in Australia for these vivid, dotted,
swirling works. Star names included Rover Thomas, Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri (whose Warlugulong of 1977 holds the record for a contemporary work by an Indigenous artist – A$2.4m), and Emily Kame Kngwarreye – she achieved A$1.06m in 2007 for the verdant, expressionistic masterpiece, Earth’s Creation (1994). Then in 2008, the market plummeted. By 2012 Indigenous art sales at auction in Australia totalled A$8.2m, less than a third of the A$26.5m grossed in 2007. International bidders – who made up 50 per cent of the high end of the market at its peak Cour tesy So
JULY/AUGUST 2015 APOLLO