Ethical purchasing of Indigenous Art

Ethical purchasing of Indigenous Art

The Indigenous Art Code, of which Gannon House is a member, recommends the following when buying Aboriginal Art from a Gallery.

Many different types and sizes of galleries sell Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art, from small tourist shops to high-end city art dealers. Irrespective of size, the following three questions can help you feel confident you are buying from an ethical gallery. Any reputable dealer will be happy to answer them:

1. Is your gallery a specialist in Aboriginal art?

One or two pieces in amongst other art or souvenirs can sometimes be a warning sign.
2. How long has your gallery been around?If it’s suddenly appeared from nowhere, where were they before? And where will they be next week?
3. Is your gallery a member of the Indigenous Art Code?
If yes, you know it has signed the Indigenous Australian Art Commercial Code of Conduct.

Ethical galleries and dealers will also be willing and able to answer questions in any of the following areas:

About the artist – his or her other work, history and community.

About the art centre – where is it? How long has the gallery been working with them? Does this artist always work through this art centre? (Don’t believe stories about the art centre ripping off the artist so they now deal direct.)

How does the gallery source its art generally and how does it pay the artists?

Artists have a right to know the ‘money story’ for their art and buyers can ask too. Most ethical dealers are open about their business models. Many get their work from art centres on ‘consignment’ and pay the art centres a fixed percentage when they sell it. Some dealers pay a fair price to artists up front; this price is a percentage of what they know the retail price of the work will be.Some unscrupulous dealers pay artists a small amount for the work up front, often exploiting artists in a vulnerable position and then charge inflated retail prices for the work. While not illegal, the Indigenous Art Code does not consider this ethical practice as, in some instances, artists are not given honest information about the true market value of their work.Use your instincts. If the gallery owner is evasive about an artwork’s provenance or their relationship with the artist, it may be a signal to walk away.There are also some specific things to look out for that can be warning signs of unethical practices:

A collection of works unconnected by theme, region, language or culture.

Merchandise, such as bags, scarves, jewellery and artefacts, that is manufactured overseas and does not attribute an artist. A bone China cup manufactured overseas and licensed fairly to the artist is ethical. A bone China cup manufactured overseas which isn’t licensed by an Aboriginal artist is not. See Fake Art Harms Culture.

Will the gallery ‘do a deal’? Ethical galleries usually work on a fixed price model with a consistent percentage returned to the art centre and artist. Offers of a discount to close the sale can be a cause for concern.

Does the gallery try to prove the provenance of artworks using photos of artists holding the work, rather than official authentication certificates?

Gannon House Gallery has worked with Aboriginal Artists and Art Centres since 1995 and houses an extensive collection of artwork from the Central and Western Desert and Arnhem Land. Gannon House Gallery also provides certificates of Authenticity and photographs of the artists with the paintings. All artwork is sourced ethically and anyone working in the Gallery has extensive knowledge about the artists, their communities and culture and the Indigenous Art market. Just ask us!

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