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10 tips for collecting and investing in Aboriginal art

10 tips for collecting and investing in Aboriginal art

Looking to invest in Aboriginal art but not sure where to start? Consider these top tips from Adrian Newstead, director of Cooee Art Gallery in Sydney. 

With 40 years of experience as an Aboriginal art consultant, dealer and commentator, Adrian Newstead, director of Cooee Art Gallery in Sydney, certainly knows a thing or two when it comes to investing in Aboriginal art.

Throughout his career, he has been the former President of the Indigenous Art Trade Association, Director of Aboriginal Tourism Australia, head of Aboriginal Art for art auction house Lawson~Menzies and Managing Director of Menzies Art Brands until 2008. 

Now, he is sharing his top tips for others looking to purchase Aboriginal art and start their own collection: 

1. If you don’t love it, don’t buy it!

No matter how hard-nosed you may be about the notion of investment, never discount the pleasure you get from living with something you enjoy looking at each day. Paintings may occasionally sell for a windfall profit, however, this is rare. Art is a long-term investment. There is a cost involved in selling so you must be prepared to hold on to a piece for a minimum of 10 years. For this reason alone, it always pays to buy something you love.  

2. Choose a theme

While most collections are a disparate group of items picked up along life’s journey, the best collections are put together with a theme or set of criteria in mind. Try to focus on a particular class of object, artist (or group of artists), subject, historic period, national, international or regional style.  

Cooee staff © Lisa Musico

Cooee staff © Lisa Musico

 3. Set a budget

Remember, less is invariably best. Purchase fewer works of higher value and better provenance rather than spreading your funds too thin. A young collector may be prepared to spend $2000 a year but, by the time they are 20 years older, their budget may be $10,000 per annum. By purchasing just one or two good works each year, their collection will be extremely valuable by the time they reach their retirement. 

4. The cream always rises to the top 

So many people look to buy artworks by NAME artists. However, a quality piece by a prominent artist will increase in value while an inferior work by the same artist will almost always prove to be a risk. Only buy works of good provenance. With Aboriginal art, these are works sold through community art centres or leading private galleries. Never buy a work that is not accompanied by a numbered and dated certificate of authenticity. 

5. Don’t let your hand be quicker than your ‘eye’

Developing your eye is an essential part of learning how to identify quality work. Artworks chosen by the curators of the major state and national collections provide an invaluable guide to viewers as they develop their own collections. Visit major galleries and collections to find out which emerging artists are represented. If you find you’ve made a mistake as you learned the ropes, don’t be afraid to shed unwanted house guests.  

6. Educate yourself

Make sure your name is on the mailing list of the best galleries. Attend as many exhibitions as you can. Follow art magazines to see which private galleries represent which artists. Go to art fairs. Study current trends in the contemporary art market and apply these to your own special area of interest. Perhaps you can discover a future National Aboriginal Art Award winner before they achieve fame. Essential reading includes Art Collector Magazine, Art Almanac, Look  Magazine. Online resources include Arts Hub, AASD (Australian Art Sales Digest), Artnet, and many others, including the vast database of information on Cooee’s website. 

7. Study the secondary market

Subscribe to all specialist auction catalogues and attend as many auction viewings and auctions as possible. Study the auction results to see if the artist is represented on the secondary market and, if so, whether their prices are on an upsurge.  

Identify those paintings that have appeared more than once at auction. A strong indicator of the lack of desirability of works of a particular style and period is that they fail to sell or re-appear within a limited time frame. This is a clear indication of their inability to satisfy. 

Cooee Art East Redfern © Sam Ramsden

Cooee Art East Redfern © Sam Ramsden

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8. It pays to seek the best advice 

Do not hesitate to ask for and seek professional advice. Dealers, gallery owners and auction houses are all willing to share their expertise and welcome new collectors into the art community.  Find a dealer or art consultant that you can trust to advise you on what to buy and how to bid if it is in an auction.  

9. Brand your collection 

Give your collection a name just as a number of high profile collectors have done (eg The Laverty  Collection, The Pat Corrigan Collection, The Sam Barry Collection, The Kelton Foundation, The  Arnotts Collection). Each time you purchase a work send your contact information to the artist and art centre indicating the artworks has been acquired by THE collection.  

10. Have your collection revalued regularly 

Do not get valuations done by the gallery that sold you the work initially. Find an independent, unbiased, specialist, and expert consultant. The Art Consultants Association of Australia (ACAA) has members that are expert in contemporary, International and Aboriginal art. Contact members of the ACAA here. 

This article was produced with content supplied by Cooee Gallery and is a Signature Luxury Travel & Style digital exclusive. Be the first to see more exclusive online content by subscribing to the enewsletter here.