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Aboriginal art investmentAboriginal Art Investment


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 return.

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 (Phaidon).

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 Australian art.

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 reference items.

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 Sources.

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 output
  • the condition of the work (is it damaged? are the materials stable?)
  • 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 this)
  • 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' work!

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.

Arnhem Land  
  • Gunbalanya
Lofty Nadjamerrek, Peter Nabarlambarl, Mick Kubarrku
  • Maningrida
John Mawurndjul, England Banggala, Ivan Namirriki, Johnny Bulun Bulun, George Milpururu
  • Ramingining
Jimmy Wululu, Mickey Dorrng, Dawidi Djulwarak, Philip Gudthaykudthay
  • Yirrkala
Djambawa Marawili, Djalu, Banduk Marika, Wandjuk Marika
  • Roper River
Ginger Riley, Gertie Huddleston
Tiwi Islands Kitty Kantilla, Frida Warlaipinni, Pedro Woneamirri, Timothy Cook, Reppie Orsto
Western Desert 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
Central Desert  
  • Utopia
Gloria Petyarre, Kathleen Petyarre, Ada Bird, Lindsay Bird, Barbara Weir, Minnie Pwerle, Emily Kngwarreye
  • Haasts Bluff
Long Tom, Marlee Napurrula, Narputta Nangala, Mitjili Napurrula, Eunice Napanangka Jack, Alice Nampitjinpa
Balgo Hills Eubena, Helicopter, Lucy Yukenbarri, Elizabeth Nyumi, Boxer Milner, Sam Tjampitjin, Sunfly Tjampitjin, Wimmitji, Kathleen Paddoon, Nancy Naninurra, John Lee, Nora Wompi, Susie Bootja Bootja
East Kimbelrey Rover Thomas, Queenie McKenzie, Paddy Bedford, Jack Britten, Freddy Timms, Hector Jandany, Madigan Thomas, Patrick Mung Mung, Beerbee Mungnari
West Kimberley Lily Karedada, Peter Numbulmoore, David Mowaljarlai, Jarinyanu David Downs
Other regions Fiona Foley, Michael Anning, Thancoupie, Lin Onus, Harry Wedge, Ian Abdulla
Urban artists Tracey Moffatt, Gordon Bennett, Trevor Nickolls, Bronwyn Bancroft, Judy Watson, Destiny Deacon, Julie Dowling

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