The Australian takes an elegiac stance toward the reforms Australia’s Culture Minister, Peter Garrett, has made in the Aboriginal art market. In an effort to protect indigenous artists, The Australian argues, the government has diluted and sanitized aboriginal art. The only question remains is whether art can be the basis of economic development in Australia’s remote regions:
Aboriginal art grew and strengthened largely under the radar. It won its place in the market: it found, over the decades, a place in the nation’s heart. It has been promoted by public funding bodies, by auction houses and galleries, but it has been until now the purest form of free market activity in the bush: it is a world made and solidified by entrepreneurs, both Aboriginal and mainstream. It is very striking that this is the only sphere of economic activity that has gone ahead in the remote community world.
Like all raw, rough markets, it has been plagued by problems, authenticity and provenance to the fore. For years this market was a dance of co-existence between three intermeshing sectoral groups: state-backed arts centres, high-end galleries, and private dealers of varying stripes.
That eco-system changed rapidly during the past decade as money flooded into the growing market. Governments took increasing notice, and realised art was a good economic development strategy. […] Three months ago, Garrett announced a $10 million expanded program of funding for art centres and their umbrella groups: a move that shifts the dynamics of the indigenous art marketplace in subtle, significant ways. Queensland, in 2008, pumped $10 million over four years into Cape York art centres. Together, these acts chart a course. They mark the official triumph and enthronement of the art centre paradigm. […] Today it holds the advantage in its relationship with private galleries, many of which are reconsidering their place in the market they helped pioneer. Governments now sponsor art fairs restricted to art centres, buyers with ethical sensitivities increasingly choose art centre-sourced work, and art centres often opt to bypass galleries and stage their own city shows. Art centre work is marketed as untainted, as against the work of carpetbaggers and independent operators.
[…] The professional transformation of remote community art is also palpable. Almost all sizeable communities have art projects now, and most of them make work well-judged to appeal to the public. Artists these days know what sells; they paint for their co-ordinators, and the art centres are under pressure to realise high prices. A large supply of appealing, well-judged art is the result: art both traditional in look and easy on the eye. Community art, heavily state-subsidised, is now a market-pleasing, well-concerted enterprise. […] In short, indigenous art is no longer quite what it was 20 years ago: the wild freedom-rider, expressing the truth of deep culture and tradition to a blind, uncaring world. It has been regulated and rationalised. It is an industry, an export trade in beauty, clustered over by well-meaning managers. The era of the code now begins. It remains to be seen whether it is an age of gold.
Indigenous Market Enters the Era of the Code (The Australian)