Accepted Paper:

Indigenous artists negotiating the art market – A Central Australian Indigenous case study  


Chrischona Schmidt (University of Queensland)

Paper short abstract:

Indigenous artists from Utopia in Central Australia work outside the traditional model of an Indigenous-owned and –run art centre. They act as their own agents creating relationships with a variety of sections of the art market by engaging directly one-on-one with commercial art dealers, collectors and tourists. This paper analyses their role within this local art world.

Paper long abstract:

Most remote Indigenous Australian artists in Central Australia work within an art centre environment. The Indigenous-run and –owned art centre takes on the role of selling artworks on behalf of the artists, marketing their work and being their agent, thus limiting direct contact between art dealers and artists. In the Central Australian community of Utopia, located 230 km north-east of Alice Springs, the art centre closed down in 2002 after ten years of operation. This left the internationally-renowned group of artists without the services and support of an art centre. However, this did not mean that the artists stopped working nor having exhibitions nationally and internationally, or winning art awards. Utopia artists forged their own relationships with art dealers across the globe, negotiating the art market without the usual infrastructure; creating a unique system of relationships that connect them directly in one-on-one relationships to the art dealers and the art market.

This paper gives an insight into the strategies developed by Indigenous artists from Utopia when working with a variety of art dealers: from art dealers who focus on the tourist market to the ones situated within the fine art market. The artists’ modes of distinction between the different art markets range from materials used, time invested and size of the artwork to the significance of the Altyerr (Dreaming) stories depicted. In the last few years discussions around establishing a new art centre have flared up, making a close analysis into these long-established structures of this local art world timely.

Panel P079
For an anthropology of the art world: Exploring institutions, actors and art works between circulation and territorialisation processes