Speaker: Barbara Ashford, School of Social Science, UQ

The art dealership is situated at a nexus of relationships that contest and negotiate culturally informed values and categories of fine art, Aboriginality and commodities.

I argue that dealers in Aboriginal art mediate categories of value through their particular practices of representation of the art and through the social relationships they foster with artists and buyers. Therefore, through the relationships formed in the exchange process, dealers both make and mark culture. I acknowledge the agency of Aboriginal artists but approach the process of negotiation of cultural categories from the perspective of the non-Indigenous audience for which the art is intended.

Buyers are drawn to Aboriginal art for more than aesthetic reasons and objects and artists’ cultural identities carry high value especially if judged authentically Aboriginal in the current art market. Both the art and the artists are made and marked as commodities in the art market; and while notions of authenticity are central to value, value is itself shifting and authenticity unstable. I examine social relationships and situated practices chosen by the dealership to facilitate sales through the negotiation of valued cultural categories to understand how shifting cultural categories are dynamically formed and reformed in the commoditisation of Aboriginal art by social agents.