One of the hottest areas of the contemporary art scene in Australia today is Australian Aboriginal art, which is becoming an increasingly attractive option for many investors. The Aboriginal art market has attracted increasing international attention in recent years, and has experienced exceptional growth which appears set to maintain pace in the medium term. Aboriginal art considerably outsells non-indigenous Australian art at auction and has gained significant international standing. It is critical that investors are well informed before entering the Aboriginal art market, however, not only to ensure that investments are made in quality work by quality artists, but also to guarantee the provenance and authenticity of the work.
Australian Aboriginal art has generally proved to be a solid investment over time. Work by important Aboriginal artists has increased in value markedly over the past 30 years, with individual works fetching prices as high $350,000 at international auction. Prudent investors who have developed good relationships with specialist galleries can derive great pleasure from collecting the art of the world’s oldest living indigenous culture, and can also be assured that the artists in question have been treated fairly and ethically, and that their investment is secure.
One of the first considerations when investing in Aboriginal art is a Certificate of Authenticity. Certificates are normally issued by the community where the artist lives and paints, or by the gallery from which the artwork is purchased. Certificates vary in the details they provide, however most include information including the artist’s name, community and language group, the title, story and size of the work, and the name and code of the relevant community art centre or gallery. A photo of the artist with the work is also often included with the certificate.
Many of the factors involved in determining the value of an Aboriginal art work are similar to those involved in any other art work. A particular piece should in the first instance be attractive to the investor on the basis of its immediate aesthetic value, but its current and future financial value depend on a variety of factors requiring careful research. These factors include the renown of the artist and the period of the artist’s career in which the work was created. Other factors particular to the Australian Aboriginal art market include the artist’s age and seniority as a tribal elder, and their role or position in the historical development of Aboriginal art.
Prior to purchasing a painting, investors should research the artist in as much depth as possible. Determine whether the artist is represented in significant collections or galleries in Australia and internationally. Also determine how prolific the artist is, and whether there is strong demand for the artist in the secondary market – in other words, at auction. View as much work by the artist as possible to determine whether the work under consideration is from a well regarded period or series. Works painted during particular periods can be significantly more valuable than those from other periods. Finally, make sure you have an accurate understanding of the current market value of the artist’s work.
If all these factors seem daunting, don’t hesitate to ask for professional advice. The Australian Aboriginal art market is far more open than it once was, with increased competition facilitating a marked improvement in service. Reputable gallery owners, dealers and auction houses possess the necessary expertise and are generally happy to assist new investors. One final point to consider when investing in any art are add-on expenses including transaction costs, commissions, insurance and restoration charges. These costs can be high, so be sure to factor them into the purchase price where applicable.