Art and Entertainment

Buying Aboriginal Art: How to Avoid Fakes and Get What You Pay For

Aboriginal paintings and sculptures are highly prized because of the indigenous history and mythology they depict. However, as the visibility of indigenous artists has increased, so has the number of forgeries, many of which are mass-produced for the tourist trade. These forgeries of indigenous art deprive legitimate artists of revenue and undermine moral enterprises.

How to Verify Legitimacy

Art sales are often the primary source of revenue for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. The galleries and artists involved in the trade of aboriginal art in Australia are expected to adhere to the guidelines outlined in the Indigenous Art Code.

According to the Code, ensuring you buy ethically and authentically does not merely compromise safeguarding the buyer’s investment but also respect for one of the most ancient cultures in the world. It ascertains that artists and their communities are fairly compensated and ensures the continuity of the aboriginal art industry.

Being a “signatory” is optional. Once a dealer signs on, they commit to a strict code of ethics. They will investigate complaints against other signatories who may have violated the Code. Certificates of Authenticity, or “Art Code Certificates,” are issued following the Code’s procedures and regulations for the benefit of buyers.

An official art centre authentication certificate must accompany the purchase of any Aboriginal artwork above A$250 from an art centre or gallery that obtains its artwork from elsewhere.

Things to Think About Before Making a Purchase

The website for the Code suggests three questions for first-time buyers of aboriginal art.

The Code states, “The origin and history of ownership of an Aboriginal artwork is both its birth certificate and passport; offering trust of authenticity and confirmation of ethical practices along the value chain.”

The Indigenous Art Code recommends inquiring about the provenance of artwork and the percentage of proceeds that go directly to the artist before purchasing from a gallery.

It is recorded that “most ethical vendors are clear about their business models.” Many artists sell their wares through art galleries for a commission on sales, a practice known as “consignment.” Some galleries give artists a reasonable sum up front, based on a percentage of the expected sale price.

A downloadable guide on ethical purchases of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art is available from the Code. Print it off and bring it to the museum or art centre.

  • Purchasers should check for the art centre, artist’s name, and artwork category number.
  • They need to request proof of authenticity. This should be on gallery or museum letterhead and have an image of the piece, the artist’s name, and the catalogue number.
  • There should be copyright and indigenous cultural intellectual property recognition for indigenous artworks.
  • The dealer or gallery owner should know their artists well and be available to answer any queries you may have.
  • They must also be priced clearly and ethically, with a predetermined portion going to the art centre or artist.

In Summary

When you buy aboriginal art from the correct venues and persons, you contribute to the livelihood of the creative community. This contributes to the stability of enterprises and associations run and controlled by Native Australians. It maintains uniformity in the marketplace for artists by ensuring that they are paid fairly and according to their value. Follow the above steps to buy original indigenous art.

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