Thursday, July 26, 2007

Clifford Possum is Now Investable

Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri Warlugulong 1977 synthetic polymer paint on canvas 385x220cm
I met Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri once. In the street in Redfern in 1999 where he was buying clothes before catching a plane to New York (or some such 'overseas' place). I was living in a warehouse space in the inner city suburb when one day the lady who worked downstairs in the clothes shop raced into our studio space yelling "Clifford Possum is downstairs right now!!". We feld down the long staircase and waited outside the shop until he had made his purchase. We approached him like one would a rock star. He was cheerful while his minder looked on as I presented The Art of Clifford Possum Tjapltjarri for him to sign. He said he didnt know writing so good. I said anything he wanted to mark the page with was alright with me so he scrawled his name , missing out the O in both Clifford and Possum. He did not use his tribal name. I thanked him for the mark and for his art, which when one spends some time with is really stunning. He mummbled that he did not need thanks and climed into the Volvo sedan that waited for him on the curb. And that was it. He left us in 2002 after a life of what we call art but he called stories. And now, five years later the cash registers are ringing.
Last week Warugulong (above) sold in Melbourne for 2.1 million US dollars to the National Gallery of Australia (nice that it stays in the country). Clifford Possum sold it for $1000 in 1977. While it is wonderful that Australian Aboriginal art has hit this level of monetary investment it makes me a bit sad whe I think about the communities that this art emerges from. Although there are many sorry stories to be told from indigenous communities in Australia when I was there recently there was a story about artists in the Kimberley using their work to fund a renal dialysis machine. Such a DIY approach is one example of what can be done.
The social and cultural benefits of Indigenous visual arts as per section (b) of the Inquiry into Australia’s Indigenous visual arts sector’s terms of reference is a paper from 2006 produced from a Senate inquiry into Indigenous visual arts and their role in communities. The spirit of Clifford Possum should be remember for the power of his art and the role it played in the collective knowledge of his people, rather than for the money that his work now fetches.

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