A very interesting article in the Australian about the impact of the credit crunch on the Aboriginal art market:

The new year looms dark and forbidding for the nation’s most distinctive visual product, that purest symbol of Australian complexity: Aboriginal art.

The past, high-growth decade proved a golden time for the sale and promotion of indigenous culture. There was a vast expansion in the number of Aboriginal artists working, in the number of galleries showing and in the ranks of keen collectors searching high and low for the next emerging, investment-grade art star.

Today, though, in the face of the looming international downturn, an ominous calm has descended. Galleries, auction houses and art centres all describe the same bleak landscape: plummeting sales, an evaporation of buyer interest across much of the market, a strong sense that an era is drawing to an end.

“The market is already hard hit,” says Diane Mossenson, from Perth’s Indigenart gallery. “And it will be hit harder. In recent years, it was completely overheated and fabricated, but it will contract now. Buyers who were looking to resell for profit at auction won’t be able to do that. The Aboriginal art market today looks just like a set of dominoes, and you don’t want to be the last one to fall.”

But the woes of the retail sector, from high-end gallerists to mid-range dealers, are outweighed by the potential effect of the market’s troubles on the creative front line. Artists in remote communities, who form the core of the movement, paint or carve today for money: their styles, their formats and their output are influenced by their earning power, and if sales fall away completely, there is a strong likelihood that art-making for external purchase will be sharply reduced. A professional fine-art tradition built up over a generation will break, or fray; as a result, the established place of that tradition in Australian life may be undermined, and the broad public taste for new art from the remote centre or deep north may never quite regain its strength of recent years.

This dark scenario cuts deeper: for the successful promotion of Aboriginal art-making in the bush has been almost the sole point of light for the various program managers trying to dream up a sustainable remote community economy. Many extended families depend on art. “In some communities, it’s bread and butter,” as Beverly Knight, president of the Australian Commercial Galleries Association, says. “The real issue is that in those places, in an art recession, some people are not going to be eating at all well.”