Investment in Aboriginal art has been a financially rewarding activity
for astute collectors. However, all investment decisions, whether it
is in art, property or the stock market, require that the investor be
well informed, have access to good advice and be able to act decisively,
preferably with a longer term view. The beauty of investing in Aboriginal
art is that you have the aesthetic pleasure of the work and the interest
of the artist's culture as well as the possibility of a sound financial
At this point we should stress that we are not qualified to act as
an investment or financial adviser, and we do not claim to be doing
so on this page or on other parts of this Web site. All we can do is
to offer some general suggestions for individuals to investigate further.
If you wish to invest in art on any significant scale, you should talk
to a financial adviser (who will be able to tell you about the pros
and cons of different forms of investment). If you decide to invest
seriously in Aboriginal art, it would be worthwhile to talk to a professional
art consultant and art investment adviser also.
Information - The Essential Ingredient
It is of course essential to have some good general background
knowledge of Aboriginal art and culture. As a starting point,
we strongly recommend three books:
"Aboriginal Art" by Wally Caruana
(Thames and Hudson)
"Contemporary Aboriginal Art"
by Susan McCulloch (Allen and Unwin) and
"Aboriginal Art" by Howard Morphy
Howard Morphy's book is remarkable for the scope and richness
of its cultural information, and is recognised as being perhaps
the best single book on the topic of Aboriginal art and culture.
Susan McCulloch's book is more aimed at a person wanting to buy
art, while Wally Caruana's book is a brief but perceptive overview
of Aboriginal art and history. The Oxford Companion to Aboriginal
Art and Culture is expensive, but is encyclopaedic in its range
and is an essential reference work. All of these books are available
at competitive prices on our Web site
shop. We stock them because we think they are the best.
Information about current exhibitions and collecting Australian
art is available in a number of magazines: "Australian
Art Collector" (probably the most useful for collectors
and people interested in investment), "ArtLink",
"Art Monthly Australia"
and "Art and Australia".
These can be found in most Australian newsagents or in major public
libraries. Once a year the "Australian Art Collector"
has an issue (published in March) devoted to the 50 most collectible Australian artists
and this makes interesting reading.
For a general introduction to the Australian art market, the
best overview is Michael Reid's book "How to Buy and Sell
Art" (Allen and Unwin, 2004). Michael is a leading Australian
art market commentator, dealer and consultant who has drawn on
his experience in the art market over several decades to produce
this concise and clearly written book. It demystifies buying art,
identifying the various things to consider and giving practical
advice on what to do (inform yourself, buy what you like) and
what not to do (panic buy at an auction!). The chapter on buying
Aboriginal art, written jointly with Wally Caruana (see above), is
useful and lists artists who are recommended by the authors for
their quality and investment potential. No other book covers the
range of material in such a concise and authoritative manner.
The standard reference on Australian art and artists is the book
"The Encyclopaedia of Australian Art" by Alan McCulloch
(updated by Susan McCulloch). If an artist is listed in both this
book, and the "Oxford Companion to Aboriginal Art and Culture"
then it is safe to say that the artist is of major stature in
Other very useful sources of information, more closely connected
to buying and investment are the catalogues from companies which hold auctions of
Aboriginal art including
Sotheby's, Menzies Art Brands and Deutscher and Hackett. These are advertised in advance of the auction
and many collectors regard them as some of their most important
The Internet is also increasingly rich as a source of specific
information, especially about particular artists. For Aboriginal
art and culture, there are no sites with a comprehensive or encyclopaedic
coverage, but there are many useful sites - see our pages of Art
Web links and Information
Reading about the art is only part of the process of information
gathering. The most vital step of all is of course to look at
a wide range of Aboriginal art - and this can be done most effectively,
at least in Australia, in the major public art galleries (mainly
located in the capital cities). There are particularly good collections
in Sydney, Adelaide, Canberra and Darwin. Commercial galleries
also have interesting shows by not only the best known artists
but by emerging younger talent. Many Commercial
Galleries also have useful exhibitions and Web sites.
Factors to Consider
When buying a painting with investment in mind, there are quite
a few factors to consider:
- the reputation of the artist (a lesser work by a well known
artist will probably exceed in value a better work by a less well
known artist - though of course there are limits to this!)
- the quality of the work in relation to the rest of the artist's
- the condition of the work (is it damaged? are the materials
- the age and size of the work (early works can be very valuable
- such as the 1970s work from Papunya)
- the provenance of the work (is the documentation clear and indisputable?
certificates from major community art centres are important for
- whether the artist's work is held in major galleries and collections
You should discuss an investment strategy with an adviser. One
possible strategy is to buy paintings in a "counter-cyclical"
way. In this strategy, you avoid works by artists who are currently
the most fashionable and have had the biggest price rises (such
as Rover Thomas or Emily Kngwarreye and the older Papunya artists),
and instead look for good artists whose work is out of favour
or is not yet in great demand. This strategy has the advantage
of requiring less capital than buying more well-known artists'
Ultimately, the most personally satisfying strategy, and possibly also
the most financially rewarding (if your judgement is good), is to back
your own taste and to buy works that appeal to you strongly and where
the artist appears to have a distinctive "vision" or style.
Collectors of Aboriginal art are often passionate about the subject,
and buy works that strongly appeal to them, regardless of the reputation
of the artist or whether they are appear on "best of" lists
in auction results or magazines. The people who bought early paintings
by Rover Thomas or Emily Kngwarreye did so because they loved the work
- even though it was unrecognised at the time.
Leading Aboriginal Artists
To provoke thought and perhaps discussion with your investment
adviser in art, we have collected a list below (organised by community
or region of Australia) of leading Aboriginal artists. Many of
these have a proven record for investment (such as Rover Thomas,
Emily Kngwarreye or Johnny Warangkula) but with others it is still
possible to buy good works that are not excessively expensive.
The list of course does not claim to be comprehensive!
Most of these artists are still alive and painting actively. And
of course there are many more artists not listed who produce beautiful
and striking work but who are yet to be recognised.
|| Lofty Nadjamerrek, Peter Nabarlambarl, Mick Kubarrku
||John Mawurndjul, England Banggala, Ivan Namirriki,
Johnny Bulun Bulun, George Milpururu
||Jimmy Wululu, Mickey Dorrng, Dawidi Djulwarak,
||Djambawa Marawili, Djalu, Banduk Marika, Wandjuk
||Ginger Riley, Gertie Huddleston
||Kitty Kantilla, Frida Warlaipinni, Pedro Woneamirri,
Timothy Cook, Reppie Orsto
||Ronnie Tjampitjinpa, Maggie Watson, Dr George, Makinti
Napanangka, Johnny Warangkula, Tim Leura, Uta Uta Jangala, Kaapa,
Clifford Possum, Paddy Sims, Michael Nelson Jagamara, Naata Nungarrayi
||Gloria Petyarre, Kathleen Petyarre, Ada Bird, Lindsay
Bird, Barbara Weir, Minnie Pwerle, Emily Kngwarreye
||Long Tom, Marlee Napurrula, Narputta Nangala, Mitjili
Napurrula, Eunice Napanangka Jack, Alice Nampitjinpa
||Eubena, Helicopter, Lucy Yukenbarri, Elizabeth
Nyumi, Boxer Milner, Sam Tjampitjin, Sunfly Tjampitjin, Wimmitji,
Kathleen Paddoon, Nancy Naninurra, John Lee, Nora Wompi, Susie Bootja Bootja
||Rover Thomas, Queenie McKenzie, Paddy Bedford,
Jack Britten, Freddy Timms, Hector Jandany, Madigan Thomas,
Patrick Mung Mung, Beerbee Mungnari
||Lily Karedada, Peter Numbulmoore, David Mowaljarlai,
Jarinyanu David Downs
||Fiona Foley, Michael Anning, Thancoupie, Lin Onus,
Harry Wedge, Ian Abdulla
||Tracey Moffatt, Gordon Bennett, Trevor Nickolls, Bronwyn
Bancroft, Judy Watson, Destiny Deacon, Julie Dowling
the page on the Aboriginal
Art Market and Prices