Are you looking to purchase Aboriginal art for the first time? If so, you’re in the right space. OzBid is one of Australia’s leading and trusted indigenous art dealers. If you would like to know more about Aboriginal art and its value as a cultural artefact and investment, you’ll find the following information quite helpful.
Aboriginal art and culture unpacked
Long before the earliest-known writing systems developed by humans appeared some 5,000 years ago, people depended on symbols, marks, and images to depict their stories and communicate their unique perspectives of the world around them.
Through cave and rock paintings and other forms of Aboriginal art, archaeologists have been able to interpret the way of life of ancient peoples, as well as identify beings or creatures, objects, places and events of great significance.
This is why Indigenous art is considered an invaluable mode of expression in discovering matters of importance among the Aboriginal societies of the world and their culture.
Aboriginal art in Australia
Australian Aboriginal art, in particular, emerged some 80,000 years ago, making it one of the oldest forms of artistic creation or expression in the world. This prehistoric art form takes us back to thousands of years ago when people first came and settled in Australia.
Before European settlers first arrived in Australia, Aboriginal artists were already celebrating and preserving their culture and customs through landscape art.
Ancient Aboriginal art in Australia comes in the form of rock art made with ochres. Indigenous Australians from thousands of years ago used this natural clay earth pigment to depict cultural and personal narratives using symbols and icons in the absence of a formal written language.
Many Aboriginal rock paintings and other forms of art have been discovered all across Australia. These include places like the Kimberley region and Pilbara in Western Australia; Kakadu National Park and Uluru in the Northern Territory; the Olary District in South Australia; and the various rock carvings around the city of Sydney.
The discovery of these primitive yet timeless efforts of communication by indigenous peoples — who had nothing but nature to rely on for their day-to-day survival — has helped in fostering respect, a profound understanding of their culture and endless appreciation for Aboriginal art.
With the preservation of Aboriginal art and the emergence of contemporary indigenous art, people have more opportunities to immerse themselves in this simple yet evocative form of artistic expression.
The development of contemporary Australian Aboriginal art
Aside from using ochres to paint on rocks, Aboriginal people also used the same material to draw on other surfaces like bark, dirt, sand, ceremonial objects and their bodies. The first paintings, which mostly depicted desert landscapes, were discovered in the 1930s. The famous watercolour painter Albert Namatjira was then featured in 1937 in the first-ever Aboriginal art exhibition held in Adelaide.
From then on, contemporary Australian indigenous art continued to flourish.
Then in 1971, a teacher named Geoffrey Bardon — who was then working with Aboriginal children in Alice Springs — noticed how Aboriginal men recorded their stories in the sand. Bardon encouraged them to preserve the legends they were showing on canvas and boards, leading more Aboriginal artists to adopt Western mediums.
As different Aboriginal communities have their own symbols and stories to tell, Aboriginal artists need to seek permission from the originators to depict particular stories. This is especially important if they intend to use stories not passed down through their own families or communities as their subject matter. In fact, even early Aboriginal artists had to ask their elders first if they wanted to use sacred teachings or traditional stories as their art subject.
Most Aboriginal works of art talk about each artist’s personal journey through life, including their upbringing, experience with war, day-to-day living, and other perspectives. The theme of the art pieces during this time typically revolved around the Dreamtime period (aka Jukurrpa or Tingari in the Western Desert region).
Dreamtime (which primarily involves totems or totemic signs or symbols) is of particular importance to Aboriginal culture as a theme or backdrop for each Aboriginal artists’ subjects.
More colourful indigenous art surfaced in the 1980s, whilst previously artists used more earth colours or tones. Aboriginal artists from certain communities or regions would usually prefer specific palettes.
As an example, artists in the Papunya Tula region (Northern Territory) preferred muted earth-tone colours, whilst artists in other Western Desert communities loved using strong, vibrant pigments. Incidentally, it is the artists in this region who popularised the technique called ‘dot painting’ in contemporary Aboriginal art.
Plenty of contemporary indigenous art depicts landscapes, although there are many other motifs and subjects that recur in various art pieces. These include human figures; bushland food like yams, bananas, plums, quandong, and water lily root; and aerial perspectives of the country showing important landmarks — all without the aid of aeroplanes, helicopters and drones.
Aboriginal artists make heavy use of symbolism and iconography and use a range of media for expression, including painting, weaving, engraving, and other handicrafts. The canvases Aboriginal artists use include barks of trees, rocks, tableware, boomerangs and so on — although most contemporary indigenous artists now use fabric as their canvas.
The value of Aboriginal art
Indigenous art collectors attracted to the raw beauty characteristic of Aboriginal art have found this type of art to be not only deeply expressive but also unique. Each art piece conveys a powerful story — usually associated with a specific community, family or the artist’s personal upbringing.
But before this long-overdue appreciation took root, contemporary Aboriginal art remained mostly obscure and underappreciated in its early days. So, its revival in the 1980s and 1990s was a welcome change, turning Australian Aboriginal art into one of the most collectible art forms in the world.
Most of the earlier Aboriginal artists were also unschooled or did not undergo either formal or informal art training, making their work even more significant, raw and valuable.
To date, two of the most expensive Aboriginal art for sale — or ever sold — are Warlugulong (1977) by indigenous Australian artist Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri and Earth’s Creation (1994) by the Australian Aboriginal artist Emily Kame Kngwarreye.
Kngwarreye painted Earth’s Creation in 1994 in Utopia, Northern Territory (northeast of Alice Springs) when she was already 84 years old (she started painting at age 80).
The painting remained in a private collection until it was sold at an auction in Sydney on 23 May 2007 for $1,056,000. The sale of Kngwarreye’s painting is particularly significant, as it marked the first time a piece of Aboriginal art (and a work by a female Australian artist) was sold at a world-record price.
Meanwhile, Warlugulong, Tjapaltjarri’s acrylic on canvas painting, remained in art collector Hank Ebes’s living room for 11 years. Finally, in 2007, it was auctioned in Melbourne and sold for $2.4 million to the National Gallery of Australia. This makes Warlugulong the most expensive piece of Aboriginal art ever sold.
Other notable contemporary Australian Aboriginal artists who have gained international recognition include Albert Namatjira, Rover Thomas Joolama, Yannima Tommy Watson, Minnie Pwerle and Gloria Petyarre.
The beauty and deep symbolism of indigenous art continue to attract collectors from across the globe. However, since most Aboriginal artists live in remote rural communities, authentic indigenous art pieces in Australia can be difficult to find.
Valuing Aboriginal art
The demand for Aboriginal art continues to increase dramatically among art investors and collectors who already know its potential. But for people who are new to Aboriginal art and wish to acquire a few pieces for their own collection, it’s crucial to know that the value of indigenous artworks depends on the following key factors:
- Identity of the artist — Artwork created by famous or popular Aboriginal artists tends to have the most value and yield the best return.
- Age of the artist — The works of older members of a community or tribe are generally considered more significant and valuable than those of younger artists.
- Geographical region — Sometimes, the geographical origin of an artwork can impact the value of Aboriginal art, so it’s best to gain some familiarity with notable communities and regions where major artists are (or were) based.
- Available documentation — Whenever possible, the seller should provide this information and paperwork: the title of the artwork, certificate of authenticity, and artist’s biography. If they can give written documentation that traces the artwork’s provenance back to its original owner, the better off you are.
- Authentication technique — Be very attentive to the technique used to evaluate the authenticity of each art piece. As much as possible, you should be able to determine if the artwork reflects the style of the artist or place of origin.
Finding and investing in Aboriginal art
Today, Aboriginal art in Sydney and other parts of Australia is made in community groups and art centres.
The Papunya community in the Western Desert, northwest of Alice Springs, is a great example of a prominent, longstanding Australian Aboriginal art centre. The artists Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri and Johnny Warangkula Tjupurrula were part of this group.
Now, Aboriginal art continues to be recognised internationally as fine art, with contemporary Aboriginal art described as the ‘last great art movement of the 20th century’ by art critic Robert Hughes.
Therefore, it’s no mystery why Aboriginal paintings and other indigenous art forms have come to be highly sought-after items among collectors from around the world, particularly those in Europe and the United States.
Contemporary Aboriginal art at OzBid
OzBid is a proudly Australian family-owned business that has grown from holding local auctions into becoming the country’s largest indigenous art dealer by volume. Today, we are known for showcasing the best of Aboriginal art for sale in Sydney.
At OzBid, we help millions of potential buyers from across the globe find high-quality, original yet affordable Aboriginal art by Australian indigenous artists. All Aboriginal art for sale in Australia featured at OzBid comes with a guarantee of authenticity. More importantly, sales revenue involving Aboriginal artworks at OzBid benefit the artists directly as well as their communities.
So if you wish to buy original Australian indigenous art, please get in touch with OzBid today.
Why is Aboriginal art so expensive?
There are several factors that influence the price of Aboriginal artwork, including who the artist is, their age and place of origin.
However, auctions — like the ones we conduct at OzBid — help solve this pricing problem, as we feature affordable Aboriginal art with prices starting from as low as $50. We know that not everyone who appreciates art can afford pricey pieces, so we feature indigenous artworks that do not break the bank and are also original and of high quality.
How do I buy authentic Aboriginal art?
You can start venturing into buying Aboriginal art by checking out the OzBid website. Here, you’ll find information on various indigenous artists, featured artworks, announcements on upcoming auctions, FAQs, shipping information and more.
Of course, you can always get in touch with us in case you have more questions about buying indigenous artworks.
How do I know if a piece is genuine Aboriginal art?
Whenever you purchase an artwork — whether it’s Aboriginal art or something in another style or convention — always ask for and examine the authenticity certificate and other relevant documents.
Is Aboriginal art worth the money?
Like all other works of art, Aboriginal art has an intrinsic value that only those who appreciate it can see and understand. That being said, Aboriginal works of art can be considered a good investment, especially if you purchase pieces by noteworthy or up-and-coming indigenous artists with a unique vision.
When you invest in the right pieces, you can expect the best returns in a couple of years.
Can you guarantee that the Aboriginal artwork I buy will become more valuable in the future?
No one can really guarantee the future value of Aboriginal artwork — or any type of artwork for that matter. However, people with a keen eye for art and who are familiar with art history trends know that truly great works of art could surprise you after several years or decades when they come to be appreciated for what they truly are. This is possible even when the artist is relatively obscure and their works or paintings are unknown during the time they were created.
So, you really don’t know what gem of an artwork you have until someone tells you.
What’s more important, of course, is that you love every artwork you buy so it retains its inherent value in your eyes. But if you purchase Aboriginal artwork at OzBid, you’re assured of value for money, as you’ll have the opportunity to buy 100% authentic indigenous art at very competitive prices.