Aboriginal artists gain royalties for resold art

CANBERRA (Reuters) - Australian Aboriginal artists whose paintings sell for millions of dollars internationally but who often struggle for money will get a lifeline through a royalty charge imposed on Friday on their resold works.

Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri's 1977 "Warlugulong" synthetic polymer paint on canvas in an image courtesy of the Collection of the National Gallery of Australia. REUTERS/Handout

In a pointer to the problem, a distinctive work by late indigenous artist Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri was last year sold to the National Gallery of Australia for A$2.4 million ($1.8mln) after being originally purchased by a dealer for just A$2,500.

Many outback painters receive only meager payments for works later sold on by galleries or middlemen for thousands of dollars, often to collectors overseas or in Australia’s major cities, the center-left government said.

“By enshrining in law the right of artists and their heirs to receive a benefit from the secondary sale of their work, we are building an environment where the talent and creativity of visual artists receives greater reward,” Arts Minister Peter Garrett said.

Garrett, a former rock star, said a mandatory 5 percent royalty would apply to artworks sold for $1,000 or more. The resale royalty would apply to works by living artists and for a period of 70 years after an artist’s death.

Tjapaltjarri, one of Australia’s best-known indigenous artists, died in 2002.

His “Warlugulong 1977” was one of five large canvases produced by Tjapaltjarri in which he blended ceremonial ground paintings and European-style topographical maps to depict his ancestral land in the outback Western Desert.

The painting, sold in the year it was painted for just A$2,500, last year smashed the Australian record for indigenous art at a time when the country’s art market has been booming, underpinned by cashed-up mining and commodity investors.

Garrett said the resale royalty for a visual artists brought struggling painters and photographers into line with other creators, such as authors and music composers.

“This is an incredibly significant outcome for visual artists in Australia who in future will benefit financially when their works are sold on the secondary art market,” he said.

Reporting by Rob Taylor; Editing by Jeremy Laurence