An article about the Aboriginal Art industry in light of the Sotheby’s auction in Melbourne last week.
More than 400 well-heeled dealers and collectors flocked to Sotheby’s in Melbourne last week for the much-hyped sale of Clifford Possum’s epic 1977 work, Warlugulong. It went under the hammer for A$2.4 million ($2.7 million), more than doubling the previous record, set two months ago when a painting by the renowned artist, Emily Kame Kngwarreye, broke the A$1 million barrier for the first time.
But while the Aboriginal art market is “not so much booming as exploding”, as one Australian commentator wrote, it is the galleries and auction houses that are benefiting. Despite international acclaim, Clifford Possum – who was presented to the Queen in 1990 – was almost penniless when he died in Alice Springs in 2002. He originally sold Warlugulong for $1200, and that was all he ever received for it.
In Australia, there have been mounting calls for artists, or their estates, to be given a percentage of the spiralling sums for which their works change hands. But a parliamentary committee that conducted a year-long inquiry into an industry worth up to A$300 million a year dismissed the idea of “resale royalties” in a report in June.