Understanding Australian Indigenous art at auction
Professor Tim Fry
Contemporary Australian Indigenous visual art has been growing in terms of both market share and critical acclaim since its naissance as an art movement in the mid-1930s. Indigenous art began to be recognized as a significant art form in the 1950s and in 2015 a stand-alone collection at Sotheby's London was sold for AU$2 million reflecting the now global interest in this market. While the movement is defined in terms of the ethnic origin of the creators (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples) the styles of the artwork vary greatly from the traditional watercolours of the Hermannsburg School to the "dot' paintings of the Papunya Tula artists of the Western Desert, among others.
This talk represents our journey as a research team to better understand Australian Indigenous art that is offered for sale at auction. Using a database constructed from the Australian Art Sales Digest and publically available data on Australian Indigenous artists covering the period 1969 to 2014 we apply empirical modelling techniques to seek to better understand why such artworks sell and, if so, what factors are associated with the "hammer price".
The talk is based upon four articles. It is non-technical and will focus on the roles played by pre-sale information (what is known about the artwork and the market prior to sale), the characteristics of the artist (including gender and language group), the characteristics of the auction itself and patterns over time. I will conclude by highlighting future research avenues for empirical, qualitative and experimental methods to broaden and deepen the understanding of the auction (secondary) market for Australian Indigenous artworks.