Australian Aboriginal art, as both a modern art movement and a collector market, has been painting graphic dilemmas for Aboriginal artists, art lovers, collectors and dealers alike. From its non-landscape rebirth on boards and canvas at Papunya Tula in 1971-72, it rode a steadily surging wave until 1988.
Brisbane’s World Expo ’88 provided timely exposure for this Western Desert Art. By the time the Berlin Wall was falling in 1989, Aboriginal art prices were rising like today’s sea levels due to relatively rapid climate change in the art world.
The Indigenous art movement encompassed a vision of Utopia (pun intended) that helped to project it into the Northern Hemisphere. It appeared that this was the boom we were meant to have. It had been said that the market for Aboriginal art was gestating million dollar babies.
In 2006 Emily Kame Kngwarreye’s “Earth Creation” fetched AU$1.056 million at auction in Sydney. Emily hailed from the Aboriginal community of Utopia in the Eastern Desert of Australia’s Northern territory, Crocodile Dundee frontier land. The baby on canvas had been gestating since it was conceived in acrylic paint in 1995.
However, at the height of the Aboriginal art boom in 2007, Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri’s painting titled “Warlugulong” sold for AU$2.4 million at Sotheby’s in Melbourne. In market terms, it had been gestating for 30 years since the dots dried on the canvas in 1977 in Papunya Tula.
Papunya Tula is a remote but famous Indigenous community north-west of Alice Springs in Central Australia – The Red Centre. It is in the Western Desert, several hundred kilometres north of Australia’s famous Uluru, the Red Rock Downunder.
The Western Desert Art Movement from 1971 is considered to be the beginning of the Modern Aboriginal Art Movement. The boom in Aboriginal art ended in a bust in 2008 with the GFC ( the Global Financial Crisis ). Nonetheless, it would be inaccurate to state: Modern Aboriginal Art Movement 1971 – 2007 R.I.P.
There is movement and life remains in the Aboriginal Art Movement. The movement is positive and the trend is upward. This year, 2015 is a landmark year of humble re-beginnings for the Aboriginal art market. The romantic ‘sacred’ hype and over-inflation have been removed from the market.
2015 represents the beginning of a modest and sensible market renewal involving a gradual ascent to a much less ambitious, though realistic, plateau of interest and investment in Australian Aboriginal art. After boom and bust, this art market now presents and views the Indigenous artworks as beyond sacred. By this, I mean that they are not solely anthropological wonders – they are aesthetic gifts and great works of art in their own right.