Friday, 11 September 2009

Top award for tradition

After the controversy over the winning artwork at this years Telstra Aboriginal Art Awards, there was far less controversy at the Togart Awards wit the winner being a traditional Aboriginal Artist.

More information below:

Top award for tradition

September 4th, 2009

A TRADITIONAL Aboriginal artist won the $15,000 top prize at the third Togart Award.

Maningrida weaver Anniebell Marrngamarrnga was on hand to collect the award for her striking large Yawkyawk, meaning young woman or young woman spirit.

One of the judges, National Gallery of Australia curator of Australian painting and sculpture post-1920 Deborah Hart, said the judges had some "pretty intense debate" before reaching a decision.

"Every single person, indigenous and non-indigenous, has a very distinctive style and that really stands out," she said.

The winner, and the approach taken by at least one of the judges, is strikingly different to last month's $40,000 Telstra Aboriginal art award.

The winning piece at that show, a large drawing with pencil, crayon and glitter pen, had many observers scratching their heads.

One judge talked about her desire to push the boundaries of what is Aboriginal art.

But rather than pushing boundaries at Togart, Hart said she wanted a winner that would stand the test of time. "Will you look back in 50 years' time and say that's still holding up as a meaningful work?" she said.

"It's not what makes a great impact or what's fashionable - it's what will stand the test of time. It's also the presence of the work, the inventiveness, the way it's made."

Hart said by the look of the Togart finalists the Territory's art scene is in strong shape.

"People are doing their own thing," she said. "Perhaps that's a Territory thing - people aren't thinking they have to follow a particular fashion or trend."

The 2009 Togart award is on show in the Great Hall of Parliament House.

Outback art code draws line in the sand

Interesting article about the upcoming code of conduct for the art market here in Australia. Whilst there are parts of the code that concern me, I believe anything that can improve the industry and rid it off unscrupulous operators could be a good thing. However, just implementing a code will not do this. It needs to be workable, realistic and enforced fairly without agendas from different sectors within the industry adversely effecting this happening.

Whether this can be accomplished is yet to be seen.

Outback art code draws line in the sand

Ashleigh Wilson | August 21, 2009

Article from: The Australian

ART dealers will be able to pay artists with alcohol or secondhand vehicles but will be forced to declare their agreed value under a wide-ranging code of conduct for the Aboriginal art business.

The final copy of the code, obtained by The Australian but still to be signed off by federal Arts Minister Peter Garrett, sets out minimum standards for dealers, agents and artists in an attempt to freeze out unscrupulous operators.

It prohibits dealers from "taking advantage" of artists or their representatives, acting in an unfair, bullying or threatening manner and exerting undue influence. Dealers must act in good faith, which includes not promoting the "dealer's interests to the detriment of the artist".

"A dealer must not engage in unconscionable conduct towards an artist or an artist's representative," it says.

The code, updated from a draft version released in December, still accommodates non-cash transactions between dealers and artists. This includes paying for paintings with used vehicles and alcohol. The original draft would have prevented dealers from remunerating artists "with drugs or alcohol". The reference to alcohol has been removed from the revised code, which states that unprofessional conduct includes paying for work with "drugs or illegal goods or services".

As a result, alcohol cannot be used as payment in remote communities where it is illegal.

Rules concerning alternative forms of payment have been tightened in the final version, which says a dealer must state the "reasonable market value" of non-cash payments in writing.

That provision is enough to satisfy Australian Commercial Galleries Association president Beverly Knight, who had been concerned about the non-cash payments, but now endorses "the code at this current point".

However, Ms Knight said, the code's success depended on who was appointed to a committee to oversee its operation.

The code was a key recommendation of a 2007 Senate inquiry into the Aboriginal art sector, established in response to reports in The Australian about unscrupulous conduct in the business.

Gabriella Roy, who runs the Sydney gallery Aboriginal and Pacific Art, said it could provide certainty to investors.

Ahead of an exhibition that opened last night featuring the work of artists from Tjungu Palya, a tiny art centre near the border of the Northern Territory and South Australia, Ms Roy said she hoped to be able to sign up to the code when it was released.

To sign up, dealers would apply to the Code Administration Committee for approval. They would have to declare if they were under investigation over breaches of trade practices or fair trading laws, or had been convicted of an offence or declared bankrupt.

The committee could remove dealers who breached the code, and publish their names.

Andrew Bolt's take on the Telstra Aboriginal Art Awards

Andrew Bolt is known for his strong opinions, well here is his unique point of view regarding the recent Telstra Aboriginal Art award winner and the the Fulbright Indigenous Scholarship winner.

Let me know what you think :)

White fellas in the black

Danie Mellor

Danie Mellor and Mark McMillan Source: Herald Sun

AS you see, the two men on the right are from a tribe of people who face terrible racism just because of the colour of their skin.

So you'll be thrilled that both have won a rare opportunity - one offered to their race alone to end such injustice.

The man to the right, Sydney arts academic Danie Mellor, this week won our richest prize for Aboriginal artists - the $40,000 Telstra Award.

Have your say at Andrew's blog

And the man to the left, Sydney law academic Mark McMillan, has won one of our richest prizes for Aboriginal students - the Fulbright Indigenous Scholarship.

If, studying the faces of these two "Aboriginal" men you think this is surely the most amazing stretch of definition, you're wrong.

McMillan has gone one better still: he's also won the Black Women's Action in Education Foundation Scholarship, originally intended to help educate black women, not white men.

But that's modern race politics at our universities and anywhere else where grants and privileges are now doled out.

Hear that scuffling at the trough? That's the sound of black people being elbowed out by white people shouting "but I'm Aboriginal, too". Hark! - is that a man's voice I now hear bellowing: "And I'm an Aboriginal woman."

You see, Mellor and McMillan are representatives of a booming new class of victim you'd never have imagined we'd have to support with special prizes and jobs.

They are "white Aborigines" - people who, out of their multi-stranded but largely European genealogy, decide to identify with the thinnest of all those strands, and the one that's contributed least to their looks. Yes, the Aboriginal one now so fashionable among artists and academics.

Let McMillan himself describe the torture he's faced as a result - the shocking pain of having not been discriminated against for being black.

"I am a blonde-haired, blue-eyed, fair-skinned Aboriginal Australian . . .

"As a child, I grew up expecting everyone to be like me, to look like me - with the blonde hair and blue eyes.

"Clearly, my naive ideas about how Aboriginal people were 'supposed' to look were wrong. But being Aboriginal and fair and blonde was normal to me and I grew up in a world where I was treated 'normally' . . .

"Impeding my growth from that young person into the adult I wanted to become was the profound issue of identity. I was a white black man . . . I was becoming a victim."

You'd swear this was from a satire -- a local version of Sasha Baron Cohen's jive-talking routine as the fashionably aggrieved white rapper Ali G, complaining: "Is it cos I is black?"

But no, this is meant seriously, and serious perks and Aboriginal-only benefits flow as a consequence.

McMillan - whose confusion about his identity leads him also to declare he's both a "proud gay" and a "proud father" - has received all the special help you once thought, when writing the taxman another cheque, would at least go to people who looked Aboriginal, but which is increasingly lavished on folk as pink in face as they are in politics.

This trained lawyer has not just won several prizes intended for Aborigines, but has worked for Aboriginal groups such as ATSIC, and is the Aboriginal representative on several boards, including that of a local land council.

Now he's a researcher at Jumbunna Indigenous House of Learning at the University of Technology, Sydney - an "indigenous" outfit run by the very pale Prof Larissa Behrendt, who may have been raised by her white mother but today, as a professional Aborigine, is chairman of our biggest taxpayer-funded Aboriginal television service.

The blue-eyed and ginger-haired Mellor has been similarly privileged, despite having an "American-Australian" father and a mother with only part-Aboriginal ancestry in her otherwise Irish-Australian past.

He now lectures on "Indigenous and Western perspectives of culture and history" at Sydney University and his indigenous art now hangs in most of our national and state art collections.

Nor are Mellor, McMillan and Behrendt atypical or even rare as "white Aborigines".

St Kilda artist Bindi Cole, raised by her English mother, explored her own pain at being too white in a Next Wave Festival show, Not Really Aboriginal, for which she photographed herself with black powder all over her distressingly white face.

Blond Annette Sax, daughter of a Swiss immigrant, also identified herself as a "white Koori", which fortuitously allowed her to make the shortlist for the Victorian Indigenous Art Award, alongside other Aboriginal artists as pale as a blank canvas.

T HE auburn-haired Tara Jane Winch was just as lucky. She needed to write just one book -- and say her dad had Afghan-Aboriginal ancestry - for the Australia Council to snap her up as its Indigenous Literacy Project ambassador.

I've written before of a dozen similar cases, several even more incongruous.

For instance, how can Graham Atkinson be co-chair of the Victorian Traditional Owners Land Justice Group when his right to call himself Aboriginal rests on little more than the fact that his Indian great-grandfather married a part-Aboriginal woman?

Yes, yes, I know. What business is it of anyone else how we identify ourselves? In fact, we're so refreshingly non-judgmental these days - so big-hugs-for-all - that the federal Human Rights Commission wants our laws changed so a man can even call himself a woman, should he feel like it.

Hear it from the HRC itself: "The evidentiary requirements for the legal recognition of sex should be relaxed by . . . making greater allowance for people to self-identify their sex."

Lovely! Soon there'll be no end of white men claiming prizes meant for black women. And don't dare then tell the HRC's anti-discrimination police you object.

Yet I do object, and not just because I refuse to surrender my reason and pretend white really is black, just to aid some artist's self-actualisation therapy.

That way lies madness, where truth is just a whim and words mean nothing.

I refuse also for two other reasons that should be important to us all.

First, of course, is that the special encouragements and prizes we set aside for Aborigines are actually meant for . . . well, Aborigines. You know, the ones we fear would get nothing, if we didn't offer a bit extra, just for them.

So when a privileged white Aborigine then snaffles that extra, odds are that an underprivileged black Aborigine misses out on the very things we hoped would help them most.

Take Mellor's art prize. This white university lecturer, with his nice Canberra studio, has by winning pushed aside real draw-in-the-dirt Aboriginal artists such as Dorothy Napangardi, Mitjili Napanangka Gibson and Walangkura Napanangka, who'd also entered and could really have used that cash and recognition.

DOES this make sense? What's an Aboriginal art prize for, if a man as white and cosseted as Mellor can win it, and with a work that shows no real Aboriginal techniques or traditions?

What's a black Aboriginal artist from the bush to think, seeing yet another white man lope back to the city with the goodies?

Same with McMillan. When a man as white as I, already a lawyer with a job, wins a prize meant to encourage and inspire hard-struggle black students, what must those Aborigines conclude?

And here's my other objection.

Seeking power and reassurance in a racial identity is not just weak - a surrendering of your individuality, and a borrowing of other people's glories.

It's also exactly what we have too much of already.

The noble ideal of Australia, that we judge each other by our character and deeds, and not our faith, fortune or fatherland, is breaking down. We're not yet a nation of tribes, but that's sure the way we're heading.

I've never before seen so many Australian-born people identify themselves by their ethnicity, whether by joining ethnic gangs, living in ethnic enclaves, forming ethnic clubs, demanding ethnic television, playing in ethnic sports clubs, or grabbing ethnic prizes and grants.

Why is that a problem? Because people who feel they owe most to their tribe tend to feel they owe less to the rest. At its worst, it's them against us.

Feel that fracturing yourself?

So when even academics and artists now spurn the chance to be people of our better future - people of every ethnicity but none - and sign up instead as white Aborigines, insisting on differences invisible to the eye, how much is there left to hold us together?

This Years Telstra Aboriginal Art Awards - WOW!

Well I know it is a bit late due to me being out of action for a few weeks but boy oh boy was the Telstra Aboriginal Art awards interesting this year!

I attended the event as i have on a number of occasions and whilst the event had a very similar feel as it seems to have had for the last few years, the winning artwork for the major prize made this years awards in Darwin very unique.

Personally, I didn't really like the direction the judges went although i think the winning artwork is very good. Whatever you think, there is no doubt the judges continue to keep the Telstra award interesting but i'm not sure if this time they went to far ;)

For those that missed it, here is an article about the awards:

Clash of cultures wins


TOP GONG: Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award winner Danie Mellor with his work From Rite to Ritual, a dramatic departure from the style of winners in years past

TOP GONG: Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award winner Danie Mellor with his work From Rite to Ritual, a dramatic departure from the style of winners in years past

THE winner of the 2009 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award has been announced and is set to be the most controversial in many years.

At a ceremony in Darwin last night, the $40,000 Telstra Award was given to Canberra artist Danie Mellor for his work From Rite to Ritual, a large drawing on paper done with crayon, pencil and glitter pen.

The work is a dramatic departure from recent winners, which have had a style more readily identifiable as Aboriginal art.

It depicts the inside of a Masonic temple that is also playing home to marsupials, birds and dancing Aborigines.

The proud winner said his picture illustrated a clash of cultures, with the temple representing Europeans and the dancing men and native animals representing indigenous culture.

"The structure of the temple is symbolic of the use of architecture that relates to western civilisation, and even settlement and colonisation," he said.

"You have the built structure as opposed to the natural environment of Aboriginal culture.

"It's that tension between the natural and unnatural which I find really interesting to explore."

Mellor, 38, is from the Mamu and Ngagan language groups in Queensland and was born in Mackay.

He is a lecturer at the University of Sydney.

Award judge Elizabeth Ann Macgregor said she didn't mind if the choice was controversial.

She said she and co-judge Carly Lane were looking for works that pushed the boundaries of their category.

"Hopefully it will get people thinking about the issues ... what is Aboriginal art, can it be defined these days?" she said.

The $4000 category prizes went to Yinarupa Nangala (painting), Rerrkirrwanga Munungurr (bark painting), Glen Namundja (works on paper) and Janine McAullay Bott (3-D works).

The 2009 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award is now open at the Museum and Art Gallery of the NT.

Resale royalty scheme for artists - Good or Bad?

Here is an excellent article about the controversial resale royalty scheme for artists being introduced into the Australian art market. There are numerous pro's and con's relating to this scheme and I expect there to be ongoing controversy and debate surrounding its introduction. I expect there will be some serious teething problems with the scheme and it will be interesting to see if it turns out to be a positive thing for the industry.

I expect I will be writing more on this subject very soon ;)

Flawed vision cops pasting

Michaela Boland | September 04, 2009

Article from: The Australian

THE widow of painter John Brack is ambivalent about it. Wendy Whiteley says in theory it is a good thing. Gallery owner William Mora, who has an enduring interest in the paintings by his artist mother, Mirka, says while he supports the idea morally, the federal government's proposed resale royalty scheme for artists will be difficult to administrate.

Who'd have thought Arts Minister Peter Garrett's plan to boost income for artists and their estates could generate such a divided response, even among those set to benefit most?

"For just about every artist (the legislation) is of dubious value, except possibly for indigenous artists," says painter John R Walker. "It's the old adage about special causes make bad law."

Walker was outspoken against the legislation when it was drafted earlier this year. On the eve of it being signed off by the House of Representatives, as is expected when parliament resumes next week, before what is expected to be a smooth passage through the Senate, Walker is resolute that the resale royalty scheme could harm the very artists it is intended to aid.

"The reason why it's not going to benefit anybody is because when I sell an artwork I get 60 per cent," he says.

Walker argues that if the 5 per cent royalty causes just one person to not buy one of his works, it would take the resale royalty on a dozen paintings to make up for that lost sale.

Garrett intends the resale royalty scheme to benefit indigenous artists in particular, but the industry is divided about the extent to which that will happen. Indigenous artists are, however, likely to be the first to see any possible returns when selling directly through community-owned art centres.

Under the scheme, which will be managed by a central administration, a flat 5 per cent royalty would go to the artist or their estate at the second resale after the legislation is introduced. For existing works, it will not apply to the first transaction after the legislation but for all subsequent sales.

The royalty is uncapped, and will cover works resold during an artist's lifetime and for 70 years after their death. Artists can also elect to opt out of the scheme for individual paintings.

"The legislation won't be backdated," Garrett says in response to some confusion in the industry that legislation could be retrospective to July, when it was scheduled to have been passed.

"We don't know how long the Senate process will take," he says, "but once that bill is passed it will be some months while we (assign a collection agency)."

So future transactions, possibly from early next year, will begin to count as an initial resale, from which point thereafter the royalty will apply.

Tamara Winikoff, executive director of the National Association for Visual Arts, has argued against the second resale clause, which is unique among resale royalty schemes worldwide.

NAVA says the government should have pushed harder to apply the scheme to the first resale of works. The Attorney-General's Department is understood to have advised the government that this model would have been unconstitutional because it would affect the value of property at present held by individuals. "It will mean that it will be many more years before artists see returns flowing through," Winikoff says.

Indigenous artists, who often sell work for far less than it is subsequently sold for, should benefit, she says. And this should happen more quickly, as those initial community centre sales will count as the primary sale. Purchases from the community centres will then count as the first resale and when those buyers sell the works the purchaser will be eligible to stump up the royalty.

But NAVA harbours concerns about the opt-out option of the legislation.

"We fear artists will be leaned on to waive their right; this is at odds with our belief this law was about establishing inalienable rights," Winikoff says.

Walker disagrees, and intends to opt out of the scheme every time he sells a painting: "People who bought my paintings 10 years ago, I have no right whatsoever to expect a return on those paintings now."

But consider the famous case of Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri, whose painting Warlugulong sold in 2007 for $2.4 million. The artist received $1200 for it in 1977.

Michael Fox, an accountant with Lowensteins Arts Management, which provides financial advice to the arts sector, is adamant the scheme will damage the indigenous art industry, which is already experiencing softening demand following the boom that peaked in 2007. "It's not going to be easy to distribute money to Aboriginal artists and (this) will lead to a decline to overall sales of Aboriginal art," he says.

Melbourne gallery owner William Mora expects to abandon his gallery's trade in Aboriginal art once the legislation is introduced. He says the market is too fragile to cope with a 5 per cent impost.

"Many of the indigenous art centres are nervous about it," says Beverly Knight, president of the Australian Commercial Galleries Association.

"If they are serious about assisting living artists, take the GST away," she says, claiming this would immediately increase the incomes of artists.

Galleries and auction houses are particularly unhappy about the scheme, in part because they will have to collect the funds.

Sotheby's has argued that because the Australian scheme does not have an upper limit akin to the E12,500 ($21,400) threshold of the British scheme, sales of bigger art works will be transacted in markets where there is no royalty scheme, such as Hong Kong, where its regional head office is located.

Knight expects some rogue traders will be squeezed out of business, others may reinvent as "antiques dealers" to escape the royalty and emerging companies could struggle with onerous compliance regimes.

"It's not necessarily a bad thing but in the arts you've got to encourage the new and the fledgling so you've got to make sure you keep that energy going," she says.

In contrast, one serious collector says he thought 5 per cent was a fair price to pay for the peace of mind that will accompany better record-keeping, which should reduce the likelihood of fakes and better establish provenance.

And Mora says buyers who have hitherto demanded privacy will need to get used to the idea their purchase is now on the public record.

According to an analysis of resale royalties by Access Economics, the estates of Brett Whiteley, John Brack and Fred Williams are expected to be the biggest beneficiaries of the Australian scheme.

Fox also points to claims that in France five families share 75 per cent of the proceeds of its scheme and the top 20 artists in Britain receive almost half of all proceeds there.

Joanna Cave, the chief executive of visual arts copyright collection agency Viscopy, has heard it all before. She was instrumental in the creation of the British scheme before she came to Australia, and she says such figures are untrue and "miss the point".

Research by the British government after its resale royalty was introduced could not find a single buyer who wanted to pay less, she says.

For his part, Garrett is unwavering in his support for the scheme.

"I am very, very confident the desirable benefits (will) flow to artists in the medium and longer term," he says.

"I'm confident we've got the right mix of legislative measures to provide both certainty for the art market and provisions for artists to have rights that thus far they have been denied but Australian authors and composers have had."

Brack's widow, Helen, thinks the scheme will make her family's life more complicated. She already receives copyright earnings and expects this will be "just something else you have to keep track of". Still, her family should benefit considerably.

"It's a very good idea for artists' families in tragic circumstances," she says. "It's a bit disgusting when you've sold something a long time ago for pound stg. 40 and on the secondary market it gets $1 million."

Back in action

Hi guys and girls,

I have been out of action for a few weeks but am back on board now. I'll be updating the blog more regularly again now.

I look forward to your feedback.

Thank you for reading this blog and sharing in the wonderful world of Aboriginal Art.

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