Journalists say that Tommy Watson has been duped out of thousands of dollars on the sale of works such as Pitjantjatjara, 2005 - claims the Red Sand Art Gallery denies
via The Art Newspaper; additional links courtesy of RGL:
Aboriginal art dealers fight back
Red Sand Art Gallery sues journalists who accuse them of defrauding indigenous artists
James MacDonald | 9.10.07 | Issue 184
In mid July in the massive modernist Supreme Court in Darwin, a frail Aboriginal man with a shock of grizzled white hair and beard took the witness stand to give evidence in a case that goes to the heart of alleged "carpet-bagging"-dealers exploiting indigenous artists to make a profit-in the country's booming indigenous art trade.
Tommy Watson , who only began painting five years ago, is one of the new stars of the Aboriginal art world; his 2006 work Waltitjatta sold for A$240,000 ($197,160) at a sale in May held by Lawson Menzies auctioneers in Sydney-an auction that also saw the first Aboriginal painting break the A$1m ($840,000) price barrier, the late Emily Kame Kngwarreye's Earth's Creation.
Watson is also one of eight indigenous artists from Australia whose work is included in the Musée du Quai Branly, the new museum in Paris dedicated
to the arts and civilisations of Africa, Asia, Oceania and the Americas.
The case has been brought to the Northern Territory Supreme Court by Red Sand Art Gallery and its proprietors Peter and Nathan King, who are seeking damages for alleged defamation in two magazine articles.
According to their counsel, Paul Heyward-Smith QC, the articles invited readers to consider them as "carpet-baggers" exploiting Watson.
The defendants are Alison Harper, a former director of what was then Phillips Fine Art in Australia, who publishes the quarterly Australian Art Market Report, and journalist Jeremy Eccles, who wrote two articles in Harper's magazine in late 2005 and early 2006.
The defendants claim truth, fair comment and qualified privilege.
Tommy Watson was appearing as a witness for the defendants. Born around 1935 in the desert of central Australia, Watson cannot read or write, and speaks only a smattering of English.
He moves between Irrunytya, a small community of 150 people described as "one of the most impoverished places on earth" and the town of Alice Springs, a day's drive away.
Speaking through an interpreter in his native Pitjantjatjara language, Watson told the court of his dealings with the Red Sand Art Gallery in Alice Springs in 2005 when his paintings started attracting attention from collectors.
"I brought a lot of paintings in and I gave [them] to some mob and they didn't pay me," he said.
Watson supplied the gallery with 41 paintings over four months, but how much money changed hands and how it was distributed is still to be established.
Legal searches found that Watson's niece had received A$61,000 ($50,100) in cash and second-hand cars on his behalf, and the gallery later showed the court receipts showing that it had paid a further A$11,000 ($9,200) for used vehicles.
At the time his paintings were selling for over A$30,000 ($24,650) each.
The gallery began placing the works with auction houses in Sydney and Melbourne; to date they have realised A$347,300 ($285,300) for 20 works sold so far and are likely to make around A$844,700 ($693,920) when all are auctioned, according to Adrian Newstead, head of indigenous art at Lawson Menzies. [read on...]