Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Authenticity of Aboriginal paintings called into question

Some doubt seems to have been cast on the authenticity of certain paintings purporting to be by Australian Aboriginal artists Rover Thomas and David Mowaljarlai, due to be auctioned today by Sydney auction house Lawson-Menzies (left.

The full story can be read on the website of The Australian broadsheet here.

If the paintings are not authentic, which is what is being alleged by certain parties close to the two or three artists concerned, then this is a disappointing development in the market for Aboriginal art, which has been enjoying unprecedented buoyancy in recent months. See my earlier notes on this here.

But if what is being claimed is true, that the paintings are indeed fakes, then one can only gasp at the stupidity of the person who fabricated them. The pictorial codes of Aboriginal art are so complex, the stories they represent so deeply personal, and the iconography laminated so tightly into tradition and cosmology that only the most short-sighted and cynical opportunist would attempt to fake examples of it. Moreover, as the market profile of indigenous art rises, should not the real experts from among the Aboriginal community be consulted to authenticate the more significant examples, particularly where there is doubt over provenance?

I see from The Australian's report that the pictures come from a single well-known source of consignments to Lawson-Menzies sales, reportedly a source that Sotheby's refuses to deal with. Would that Sotheby's took the same care over vetting vendors who consign to its antiquities sales.

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