How to Value: Australian and Aboriginal Art

Learn about valuing Australian and Aboriginal art, with ValueMyStuff's appraisal experts. Our experts can help guide you on what to look out for.

The story of Australian art over the last 20 years has been one of discovery and rediscovery. Valuing Australian and Aboriginal art has not always been an easy task as global interest in both Aboriginal and colonial art increases but has been tempered by the peaks and troughs of global finance. This said Aboriginal and Australian art is considered a buoyant market and a good investment today, although many questions about any work as to its provenance and ethics need to be answered before going ahead with any sale.

Valuing Aboriginal and Colonial Art

While colonial art and Aboriginal art may seem poles apart in terms of style, some of the same ideas apply to the valuation of both. Chief among these indicators is the name of the artist; a well-known artist is not only usually worth more but is also often easier to value if the sales of many of their known works can be researched. Another factor might be the ‘wall-power’ of an artwork – bigger often means better, especially when it comes to Aboriginal art, but colour and the visual impact of the style can also catch the eye of potential buyers. Beyond first impressions, the historical interest in a painting and the level of meaning behind it can also increase the value of a piece, especially as many colonial paintings are evocative of a particular era, and many Aboriginal paintings have local and deep meanings. Even if an art purchase is made with financial investment in mind, buyers are always keen for something they want to see on their wall.

The Art Market

It has been the change in attitude towards Australian and Aboriginal art as a financial investment that has caused its value to reliably increase over the last 20 years. The second half of the 20th century saw both the emergence of modern Aboriginal art and of the modern market for that art as well as colonial art. Prices of colonial art saw a boom in the 1980s, whereas indigenous art did not see its period of fastest growth until the first decade of the 21st century. In both cases, the high-end of the market was hit by financial crisis while the general trend of rising values continued. Records continue to be set for Aboriginal art, both for contemporary work and older pieces. As the market matures, more names become established and their works continue to rise in value.

Provenance

Central to the market’s confidence in any piece of Australian art, but particularly Aboriginal art, is its provenance. While colonial pieces can be treated much like any work of Western art by examining sales, exhibition and collection records, it is often harder to do the same for indigenous art. For ‘modern’ Aboriginal art and pieces from before the mid-20th century, any documentation which can confirm the artist and the history of the work can be hard to come by as such pieces were often not highly valued when they were produced. Similarly, indigenous artefacts which can date back centuries often have issues of documentation. In both cases receipts, certificates, sales records and inventory marks can all add to the value of pieces whose creator it is sometimes impossible to identify. For ‘contemporary’ pieces, that is works from the 1970s or later, there is a greater expectation of a trail which can prove the origins of a piece and the circumstances of its production and sale. Many of the best-selling examples of aboriginal art have the simplest provenances and complete, genuine and ethical origins in recognised projects and centres. Although there can be many important boxes to tick, the art world remains hungry for Australian art of all types.

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