By ERWIN CHLANDA
With Aboriginal art lovers and traders streaming into Alice for tonight’s opening of the 2015 Desert Mob, local dealer Kate Podger has a smile on her face.
Business has been growing steadily from a low in 2011, and this week it is booming, her chic Talapi Gallery a shining beacon in the otherwise not-so-good Todd Mall neighbourhood.
How are she and partner Thijl Duvekot getting it right, with a mix raging from trinkets to high art?
Unsurprisingly, what counts is not so much what they want to sell, but what people want to buy.
The gallery caters to a varied market: 30% to 40% are international visitors.
The balance, the domestic customers, “are often repeat clients and if they don’t physically enter the premises we have a good relationship and therefore we do a lot of work via phone and internet,” says Ms Podger.
Locals, buying “from low high end to modest things”, make up 20% to 30% of the trade.
The local trade – 60% women – too is varied: Some buy gifts – jewellery and small paintings. Some are “buying at the modest level up to the $3000 to $4000 mark”.
Locals range from the “always lived here” to people on contract work for two or three years, “particularly from the government sector, health, education, justice, land care – the works”.
So what’s the secret of success?
“You actually give the customers what they want, instead of relying on old models of the art market that have changed.
“Thijl and I did our research very carefully. We remain flexible. If something’s not working we drop it, we change. We’re diverse. This gives us a good customer base.
“But also we look after our suppliers very well” – artists from the huge area of the NT and the Top End of South Australia.
“And I guess the other thing is, we’re enjoying what we are doing, we’re passionate about it. That shows through in what we’re doing.”
Web-based trade, both domestic and international, amounts to 20% to 30%.
The pair opened in 2011: “We suspected it was the bottom of the art market. 2011/12 was a pretty tough year when the GFC was biting and tourism numbers were down.
“It’s been gradually building since then, tourism numbers have come up, with a little dip last year,” says Ms Podger.
“The last 12 months have been really promising. European and American tourists are back, and at the high end, too, not just backpackers – in fact backpackers are the notable reduction in tourism.”
What’s the future of the Aboriginal art industry?
“After it had a good shake-down in the past two or three years it’s back to building on a strong foundation. It’s done its re-check. Now it’s starting to build slowly and firmly again.
“People are more careful about what they purchase. Changes to superannuation investment and the GFC happened at the same time as the art market check.
“It’s a more solid market now than it was. It was an overheated market. It’s more solid now and that gives people confidence to purchase again.”
So where is the industry heading?
“There are always new and exciting things coming out. Iwantja at Indulkana is a really perfect example. Vincent Namatjira, Tiger Yaltangki and a few of the other artists.
“When synergy is good in a community, and when it’s all working well, things happen, and that will sustain the industry in the long term.”
By ERWIN CHLANDA