Aboriginal art dying with desert masters

Aboriginal Art Directory | 19.09.10

The pursuit of cultural authenticity in Aboriginal art will make it harder for young artists to enjoy the success of the old masters.

New research into the sustainability of Aboriginal art claims the market for new works is already falling away, even for sought-after artists, because some indigenous works are still being treated as ethnographic objects.

A paper by Melbourne academic Meaghan Wilson-Anastasios says major artists such as Emily Kame Kngwarreye, Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri and Rover Thomas, are promoted as Aboriginal in a way that Pablo Picasso would not be labelled Spanish.

"To secure the future of the Aboriginal art market, it needs to expand and evolve so that a new generation of artists is cultivated and they are accepted as contemporary practitioners," she writes.

"Marketing the first generation of Aboriginal desert painters as the genuine ethnographic article has the corollary effect of initiating a spiral of redundancy that makes it increasingly difficult to promote subsequent generations of Aboriginal artists."

Her comments are controversial because most of the industry has long rejected the labelling of Aboriginal artworks as ethnographic museum pieces.

But in the paper, to be published in the UNESCO journal Diogenes in November, Dr Wilson-Anastasios says these issues explain, for example, why Aboriginal artists face double standards about authenticity. While Western artists sometimes use assistants, or take advice from dealers, similar practices are more controversial in the Aboriginal world.

"Because the most sought-after ethnographic art emerges from a culturally immaculate source, workshop practices that are commonplace in the contemporary art world are anathema to collectors of ethnography," she says.

However, Melbourne gallery owner Beverly Knight says the findings are based on auction results and ignore the thriving primary market for indigenous art. She also says Australian buyers have become increasingly sophisticated and moved far beyond old-fashioned ideas of ethnography.

Ms Knight returned this week from the Korean International Art Fair, which she visited with Queensland artist Sally Gabori. She says Aboriginal works are appreciated as contemporary art by foreign buyers.

"No one really cares that it's indigenous, it's not a big thing in Korea," Ms Knight says.

"It's more that it's fresh and different and exciting."

URL: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/nation/aboriginal-art-dying-with-desert-masters/story-e6frg6nf-1225925601112

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Contact Details

Gallery: Alcaston Gallery
Contact: Beverly Knight
Email: art@alcastongallery.com.au
Telephone: +61 3 9418 6444
Address: 11 Brunswick Street Fitzroy Melbourne 3065 VIC



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