Provenance is of utmost importance when determining the current and future value of an artwork. This is true of all sectors of the art market, and astute collectors routinely conduct thorough provenance checks before they buy.
Provenance proves the origin of a work and it should be traceable through the history of prior owners and dealers back to the artist/s and place of creation. Be aware that a work which lacks good provenance may prove difficult to resell. A falsified or fraudulent provenance can devalue or render worthless a work. Antiquities and old works may be more difficult to fully provenance, as records can be lost or destroyed over time. However, establishing the provenance of contemporary art – given its recent creation – should be straightforward. It is worth noting that the reputation of the art dealers will have a bearing on the quality of the provenance, and hence, the value of the work.
Aboriginal art may pose especial challenges in establishing full provenance. This is largely due to the rapid rise of the Aboriginal art market which has seen collectors and investors make high returns quickly. This in turn has led to the exploitation of artists by unscrupulous dealers keen to cash in on a growing and valuable market. Unscrupulous dealers do not always fully or accurately declare the attribution of works; the worst of them have engaged in fraudulent and/or abusive practises. There is a high probability that the artists are paid only a fraction of what the work sells for in city galleries.
Buyers are therefore advised to pay particular attention to the provenance of works offered for sale.
Impeccable provenance in Aboriginal art
By far the most reliable and trusted provenance is provided by the Aboriginal owned and operated art centres that work with reputable representative galleries. These art centres assign each a unique catalogue number which is recorded on the centre’s database, along with an image and the details of the work and artist/s.
The art centres issue their own “Certificate of Authenticity” which accompanies the work to the representative gallery. There is then no need for a gallery to issue its own certificate of authenticity, as the industry, including the public institutions, accepts the centre’s certificate as the official authentication of authorship. And there is certainly no need for photographs of the artist painting the work in question; this is widely considered to be one of the cheapest tricks in the book! Prominent artists have been known to distance themselves from “private studio” paintings that they have been photographed with, asserting that it is not their work.
If you are new to buying Aboriginal art, take some time to discover the Aboriginal owned and operated art centres around Australia and which galleries represent them. You will find this to be the most rewarding – and secure – path to building a valuable collection.
We would be more than happy to answer any questions you may have about provenance.
Nganampa Ngura - Our Country, 2013 brings together all of Tjala Arts’ women on one monumental, unprecedented canvas. Commissioned by the Art Gallery of South Australia for its HEARTLAND exhibition, this painting is an outpouring of the women’s belief in the essential role of Country in the lives of Anangu. Behind the indisputable bold and dazzling physical qualities of the painting lies a profound statement of connectivity: to the land, their culture and to each other.
The primacy of the individual defines Western cultures, but within Aboriginal cultures individualism is an exception. Instead, the strength of the individual comes from the health of the community and culture, both of which rely on a direct and unfettered connection to County. Hence “Country” finds its expression in infinite ways through art and life. Its repetition acts as a meditation to centre the mind, heart and soul, and to reinforce connectivity. This is evidenced in the harmonious composition achieved by thirteen women ranging in age and seniority; the individual styles are discernable, but the aesthetic values are drawn from shared cultural and communal values.
Tjala’s established and emerging artists are extensively represented in public and private collections internationally.
HEARTLAND: Contemporary Art from South Australia, Nici Cumpston & Lisa Slade, Art Gallery of South Australia, 2013.
My country has changed since mining began. The centre (yellow) is representative of a sacred stone, (donut shaped). I sometimes think, is it still there? What about the little spirit people and other places and stories. Mmm, Native Title, sell your birth right for progress. Funny, that letter “P”, no wonder we are cooking in our own Progress, just like P and ham soup.
This sacred stone was photographed in the late 70’s by the Aboriginal Heritage mob. At least we still have a picture.
Vincent Namatjira has depicted Captain James Cook, the famous British explorer who travelled extensively throughout the Pacific Ocean and is acknowledged as discovering Australia. Namatjira has portrayed Cook in the act of signing the declaration which claimed Australia as a British acquisition and colony.
“The aboriginal people who saw that First Fleet landing would have been confused to see people in big boats coming onto their beaches, putting up a flag, and wearing such strange clothes. It would have looked quite funny to them, like something really cheeky was happening. In this picture I wanted to paint Captain Cook when he was signing the Declaration – this was such an important event for Australia’s history. But I’ve tried to let the picture tell a little joke, back then nobody would have understood what he was signing anyway.” - Vincent Namatjira.
Tjitji Tjuta Tjukurpa, Tjukurpa pulka Inma wiru. This Tjukurpa is Tjitji Tjuta, all the Children and the sacred song and dance ceremony is great. Nyangatja tjitji tjuta pakalpai tjitji wilu tjuta munu witilunpa tjuta munu tjitji langka tjuta muna tjitji kalaya tjuta tjitji liru tjuta tjitji ngapari tjuta tjitji uwankara tjunguringkupai munu inma kantalpai tjintira Watarrula tjangati.
This is where all the children were dancing; there are the stone bush curlew children and emu children and blue tounge lizard children and the snake children. All the children are coming here for dancing at this dry lake bed just this side of Watarru. Tjitji uwangkara, tjitji uwankara winki mamu tjitji. The whole lot, all the children, even the spirit sorcerers children (come here to dance).