The Australian looks at the crisis facing Aboriginal art:
“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.”
The impact of these economic troubles, quite palpable in some regions, is being strengthened by a significant cultural shift unfolding in parallel: old painters from traditional bush backgrounds are dying, most of them have already gone, and attempts by market-makers to replace their ranks with “emerging artists” have produced work with a different tone. Indigenous culture survives, and evolves, as always, but some observers feel they are watching a hinge-point in the tradition. Ian Plunkett, director of Japingka Gallery in Fremantle, is unusually candid about this. “It’s changing before our eyes,” he says. “We’re seeing accomplished artists coming through, younger artists, full of talent, but increasingly influenced by Western culture. Across much of remote Australia, we’re witnessing the end of an era, the golden age of those older artists, who have that mystical something, whose works are full of power, a power that moves and affects people.”
The rest of the story deals with the Australian government’s controversial policy changes.
Creativity Feels the Crunch (The Australian)