There are several reasons why you should consider investing in original prints. If you are new to collecting or investing, or have a limited budget, prints provide an economical and less risky entry point.
The affordability of prints allows you to acquire works by a number of different artists. Any financial advisor would not recommend that you invest all your funds in a single stock or asset class. The rationale for this also applies to art. Diversify your risk by investing in a range of different artists. If you are working with a limited budget, prints are the ideal medium that allows you to accomplish this investment strategy.
As we have said elsewhere on this website, ‘buy a good print by a good artist and you can’t go far wrong’. But, who are the good artists? A measure we use, and one we apply when deciding which artists to publish, is their reputation. Reputation is largely made up of two components. Firstly, what price are their works selling for and how quickly are their prices escalating? And secondly, which major institutions, and how many have collected their work?
There are however excellent prints available by lesser known artists that will appreciate in value. These are a little harder to identify but, none the less worth looking for. Adopt the philosophy of experienced art collectors – if you really like a work, and you have taken the trouble to find about the print and the artist, buy it.
Senior Deceased Artists
If you are looking at investing or collecting within the short term there is a window of opportunity that is closing and will finally shut within a year or two. What we are talking about here is the fact that there are still prints available from a group of artists that will be seen as being unique in the history of Aboriginal art. These are those artists, mostly in their 80s, who were born into a traditional lifestyle that was largely unchanged for thousands of years. Many of them did not come into contact with white people until they were in their teens or even later. Because of this they have, or had, an unadulterated link with their culture. The knowledge and ownership of stories that this brought is reflected in their art and that is what makes it unique. The era of these artists has almost past. The price of their canvasses, barks, boards and sculptures are way beyond the budgets of most people, but original prints by some of these artists are still available on the primary market at reasonable prices from Aboriginal Art Prints. However, as many of them are now deceased, and some are no longer active, the quantities available are limited.
These artists include – Rover Thomas, Queenie McKenzie, Jack Britten, Peter Nabarlambarl, England Banggala, David Malangi, George Milpurrurru, Freda Warlipini, Abie Jangala, Lucy Yukenbarri Napanangka, Tjamma Napanangka, Susie Bootja Bootja, Samson Martin Japaljarri and Jimmy Pike,
Senior Living Artists
This window of opportunity we mentioned earlier also applies to a group of very important artists that are still alive and some of who are still active in printmaking and producing works in other media.
The artists in this group that Aboriginal Art Prints have current editions of include – Paddy Carlton, Hector Jandanay, Freddy Timms, Mick Kubarkku, Lofty Nadjamerrek, Thompson Yulidjirri, Eubena Nampitjin, Boxer Milner, Butcher Cheryl, Bai Bai Napangarti, Elizabeth Nyumi Nungurrayi, Helicopter Tjungurrayi, Judy Martin, Judy Watson Napangardi, Lily Hargreaves Nungarrayi, Liddy Nelson Nakamarra, Paddy Sims Japaljarri, Paddy Stewart Japaljarri, Ronnie Lawson Jakamarra, Rosie Tasman Napurrula, Teddy Morrison Jupurrurla, Tjumpo Tjapanangka, Uni Martin Nampijinpa, Billy Thomas, Clara Wubukwubuk, Djardi Ashley, Sam Tjampitjin, Fred Tjakamarra, Ada Bird, David Ross, Lindsay Bird, Lily Karedada, Marle Naparula, Mary McLean, Namiyal Bopirri, Phillip Gudthaykudthay, Peggy Griffiths, Alan Griffiths, Peter Newry Thompson Yulidjirri
The ‘Yilpinji, Love Magic & Ceremony’ portfolio of prints includes works by 15 of these senior artists, some of whom are now deceased. This is an ideal opportunity to obtain works by this important group of artists for a fraction of the price it would cost to acquire their original canvasses.
Important Younger Artists
This group includes artists in their 30s through to their 60s. They are artists whose works have been acquired by major Australian institutions and overseas collections. They have been recognised because of their artistic integrity and often because they are seen as having picked up the baton from their peers. These artists include Dennis Nona, Johnny Bulunbulun, Arone Meeks, Sally Morgan, Judy Watson, Andrew Margalulu, Bronwyn Bancroft, Banduk Marika, Billy Missi, Bede Tungutalum, David Bosun, Mable Juli, Mignonette Jamin, Maryanne Mungatopi, Michelle Possum, Pedro Wonaeamirri, Roy Burrunuyla, Timothy Cook, Victor Motlop, Molly Tasman Napurrurla, Bruce Nabegyo, Terry Ngamandara and Jimmy Wululu
Aboriginal Art Prints is passionate about giving younger indigenous artists the opportunity to develop and commercialise their art practise. In order to help accomplish this we have identified a group of artists who we think have enormous talent and potential. Many of these artists have finished or about to finish their tertiary printmaking education mostly at TAFE (Tertiary Adult ??) colleges. These artists have been brought to our attention through our contacts and knowledge of indigenous printmaking, their lecturers and the artists themselves.
Signatures from Aboriginal artists often take the form of thumbprints Investing in these artists is more risky than buying the work of established artists as there is no guarantee that they will move on to be recognised artists. However, many investors who have taken the trouble to seek out the work of emerging artists have been handsomely rewarded. Some of the artists in this group whose prints you can see at Aboriginal Art Prints include Joey Laifoo, Robert Mast and Matatia Warrior
When buying any form of art, provenance is all important. With prints you would want to know – something about the artist. Which major institutions have collected his or her work? When and where the artist has exhibited.? Who was the publisher of the print? Which studio printed the edition and who was the printmaker? How, when and where the plates, stones, screens or blocks were created? When was it printed?
Printmakers often include their chop mark on the print (as above) the above chop is from Basil Hall editions, on of the most reputable printmakers working with indigenous artists today. A link to this studio only adds the prints reputation and provenance.
There are only a handful of printmaking studios working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists. These studios are very zealous about protecting their reputation so it is highly unlikely that they would cut corners or compromise their integrity even if this was the wish of an opportunistic publisher. There are also a limited number of publishers so it is not that difficult to find out if your print has been published and printed by known and reputable people.
Most Aboriginal art depicts country, spirit beings, creation ancestors, creation legends, ceremonies and sometimes the everyday. Because the meanings are not always obvious by looking at the imagery, the artist often provides an explanation, which is documented by the publisher and provided as part of the provenance.
Art Centres, who represent many Aboriginal artists, usually issue a ‘Certificate of Authenticity’. While this does not always include the entire provenance information mentioned here, it is a document readily accepted and adequate as provenance.
If you purchase a print from Aboriginal Art Prints, or from one of the galleries it supplies you will receive two documents. One that includes the story associated with the print and the full provenance information mentioned here. The second document is a comprehensive artist’s biography that profiles the artist and gives an exhibition history, bibliography and a list of institutions that hold work by the artist.
When you come to sell your print, prospective buyers will want this provenance information. If you can’t provide it, you may have difficulty in liquidating your investment.
The publisher is the person or company that pays for the production of the prints and becomes the owner of the edition.
In most cases the publisher is a wholesaler who sells the prints to indigenous and other art galleries.
The publisher can also be a gallery or Art Centre who retails the print exclusively.
The publisher more or less determines the price of the print while it is a current edition selling on the primary market.
The Primary Market
Most publishers sell to art galleries at a set price. These galleries work on much the same mark up so this means that while an edition is current, or in the primary market, the price of the print will be much the same no matter where you buy it.
It is not uncommon for a publisher to increase the wholesale price of print while it is still a current edition. Different publishers have different formulas but a common one is to increase the price after 1/3rd of an edition is sold and then again after 2/3rd of the edition is sold.
So, if you purchase a print soon after it is released on to the market, your investment could appreciate even before it becomes a secondary market print.
The Secondary Market
A print enters the secondary market when all the prints in the edition have been sold by the publisher. A print edition may take some time to sell out, so unlike a canvass, bark or sculpture, prints do not enter the secondary market immediately.
Once a print enters the secondary market there are no easily accessible pricing benchmarks. This is due partly to the fact that the market for indigenous prints is smaller than it is for paintings and as a result, prints do not change hands as often. However, as most indigenous artists producing prints also paint, the movement in the prices of their work in other media do provide a barometer as to the market value of their prints.
The auction houses, in recent times, have taken more of an interest in prints and they are now a regular inclusion in all indigenous art auctions.
In Sotheby’s July 2003 auction, a Rover Thomas print that was published by Aboriginal Art Prints, and last sold through galleries for $AU750 in 1998, fetched just over $AU10,000 (including buyer’s premium). While we think this price is at the top end of what the print is currently worth, it does confirm what we said earlier, a good print by a good artist will appreciate in value at much the same rate as other work by the same artist. The Australian Auction Sales Digest – www.aasd.com.au is an excellent resource for getting a fix on prices if you are buying or selling on the secondary market. It is an online subscriber service that lists auction results going back to the 1970s. It does provide some free information but if you want to trawl the auction results for a particular artist it will cost you a modest $AU22.00 for a month or $110.00 for a 12 month’s subscription. The subscription payment also provides you with a wealth of other useful information. Aboriginal Art Prints has a wide range of secondary market prints available. These can be viewed in our Sydney gallery or on this website.
In the early days of original printmaking, plates and blocks tended to wear as the print run progressed, so the prints later in the edition were of a lesser quality. Because of technology advances this is not the case today. Blocks, plates, stones and screens are capable of giving at least one hundred perfect impressions which is about the maximum number you will see in a fine art edition printed in Australia today.
This debunks the theory that the lower numbers, including APs (artist’s proof), in an edition are more valuable. Besides, there is no guarantee that the prints were numbered sequentially as they were printed.
However, if you have the opportunity to purchase APs or lower edition numbers, go for it as the person you end up selling to may believe that they are more valuable.
If for some reason a plate, block or screen does become damaged a reputable publisher and or printmaker will stop the editioning process and number the edition out of the total number of prints that are the perfect impressions.
We have no evidence to support the often held belief that a print in a small edition should be more valuable than one in a larger edition. As long as the edition is 100 or less, it is our experience that it is the calibre of the artist and artistic merits of the print that dictate the price, rather than the size of the edition.
Like any commodity, an item in poor condition will be difficult to sell, and if it does, it will realise a lesser price than one in mint condition. It is therefore critical that you care for your prints properly.
When you are buying prints, especially secondary market prints, check that they are in perfect condition. Things to look for are –
- Foxing and water stains. Small brown stains caused by moisture and fungus.
- Mat discolouration. A variation in paper tone caused by the use of non acid free mats.
- Surface Tears and Marks. Check the front and back of the paper sheet to ensure that there is no damage from handling or the improper use of framing tapes or glues.
- Insect Damage. Silverfish and other insects can cause marks to poorly cared for prints.
You should be cautious about buying a framed print at auction or from any source other than a reputable dealer or gallery as you will have no guarantee as to the condition of that part of the print that is covered by the mat and frame.
Self Managed Super Funds (SMSF)
In Australia, SMSF are able to invest 5% of the fund’s total assets in art or other collectables. There are certain conditions that apply as to how these assets can be displayed and enjoyed so you should talk to a financial advisor before committing your Super Fund to an art purchase.
If 5% of your fund’s assets prohibit you from buying a masterpiece you should consider prints. For the price of a mediocre canvass you can purchase several prints by a number of different artists thereby spreading the risk of your investment
For many people, acquiring art is more interesting, pleasurable and exciting than acquiring a portfolio of stocks and bonds. This is why increasing numbers of SMSF are including art as part of their investment strategy.
Collecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Prints is a must read section if you would like to be better informed about investing in indigenous prints.