Art dealers will be able to pay artists with alcohol or secondhand vehicles but will be forced to declare their agreed value under a wide-ranging code of conduct for the Aboriginal art business.
The final copy of the code, obtained by The Australian but still to be signed off by federal Arts Minister Peter Garrett, sets out minimum standards for dealers, agents and artists in an attempt to freeze out unscrupulous operators.
It prohibits dealers from “taking advantage” of artists or their representatives, acting in an unfair, bullying or threatening manner and exerting undue influence. Dealers must act in good faith, which includes not promoting the “dealer’s interests to the detriment of the artist”.
“A dealer must not engage in unconscionable conduct towards an artist or an artist’s representative,” it says.
The code, updated from a draft version released in December, still accommodates non-cash transactions between dealers and artists. This includes paying for paintings with used vehicles and alcohol. The original draft would have prevented dealers from remunerating artists “with drugs or alcohol”. The reference to alcohol has been removed from the revised code, which states that unprofessional conduct includes paying for work with “drugs or illegal goods or services”.
As a result, alcohol cannot be used as payment in remote communities where it is illegal.
Rules concerning alternative forms of payment have been tightened in the final version, which says a dealer must state the “reasonable market value” of non-cash payments in writing.
That provision is enough to satisfy Australian Commercial Galleries Association president Beverly Knight, who had been concerned about the non-cash payments, but now endorses “the code at this current point”.
However, Ms Knight said, the code’s success depended on who was appointed to a committee to oversee its operation.
The code was a key recommendation of a 2007 Senate inquiry into the Aboriginal art sector, established in response to reports in The Australian about unscrupulous conduct in the business.
Gabriella Roy, who runs the Sydney gallery Aboriginal and Pacific Art, said it could provide certainty to investors.
Ahead of an exhibition that opened last night featuring the work of artists from Tjungu Palya, a tiny art centre near the border of the Northern Territory and South Australia, Ms Roy said she hoped to be able to sign up to the code when it was released.
To sign up, dealers would apply to the Code Administration Committee for approval. They would have to declare if they were under investigation over breaches of trade practices or fair trading laws, or had been convicted of an offence or declared bankrupt.
The committee could remove dealers who breached the code, and publish their names.