Kieran Finnane from the Alice Springs News discusses the new publication, McCulloch’s Contemporary Aboriginal Art:
McCulloch notes eight Aboriginal-owned arts centres in Alice at present. These, and in particular the two set up to cater for artists from town camps, get a fairly detailed account, but she also pays some attention to “the artist / private dealer relationship”, naming a number of them, including the long-established Gallery Gondwana. She says these relationships are “one of the reasons the town itself has become a significant art-producing region”.
McCulloch tries to stand back from the controversy that dogs Aboriginal art “ the exploitation of Aboriginal artists by supposedly ubiquitous carpet-baggers. She regrets the way this has dominated coverage of Aboriginal art in recent times.
“It’s hard to shift away from it to some of the positive aspects, some of the amazing stories of people and their achievements,” she says.
In her buyer’s guide section, “From the Bush to the City”, she acknowledges “highly contentious” and “other quite bizarre” circumstances for some private dealing and “numerous incidents” of artists being underpaid for work.
“Yet this does not mean that every art work sold privately is either fake or necessarily of lesser quality,” she writes.
She also warns against “making assumptions about the facilities in which artists work” “ “pressures on artists within a community are often also intense”, she writes.
She contests the assumption that all artists are unable to manage their own sales, citing C. P. Tjapaltjarri and E. Kngwarreye as examples of highly sought-after artists who did so.
While she acknowledges community art centres as “unquestionably the heart and soul of the art movement without which art would not have developed as it has”, she writes “not everyone who deals directly with artists, or who artists choose to work with, are of the same ilk”.
And, “Whether Aboriginal artists are treated fairly in any transaction is largely determined by the ethics of all involved.”
Educate yourself, do your own research, develop your own eye, she urges buyers, and concludes with the salutary reminder that within the many problems on communities and with an often fraught art marketplace “the practice of art, like a beacon, continues to flourish” and is “one of the most positive and empowering aspects of life for many Aboriginal people”.
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