Decoding the code of conduct - Art Collector

Issue 51, January - March 2010

Maxine Clarke asks what the new Commercial Code of Conduct for Indigenous Australian Art means for collectors, dealers and artists.

Australia’s recently launched voluntary Indigenous Australian Art Commercial Code of Conduct aims to promote fair and ethical practice in dealing with Indigenous art. All dealers who acquire art fall within the code definition of dealers, and are therefore able to ratify the code through written request to the Code Administration Committee. Code signatories are bound by the contents of the code, and breaches may be met with sanctions.

Though voluntary in it’s application, the Australian Government notes that the Code’s success depends largely on the participation of dealers, and has highlighted the possibility of further mandatory regulation in the area should the code prove ineffective in its reach.

The code regulates the interactions of collectors with Indigenous artists and their work in three broadly identifiable areas: general dealings with artists/artist representatives; artwork agreements/payment; and documentation and reporting.

General Dealings with Artists

Collectors must not display unconscionable, unprofessional or misleading or deceptive conduct when dealing either directly or indirectly with Indigenous artists and/or their work. Prohibited behaviour includes: refusal to provide the artist with an opportunity to understand any documents or information; paying an artist in illegal goods or services; and exhibiting general behaviour which goes against good conscience.

Signatories must display a general respect for Indigenous cultural practices and artist’s rights, including correct attribution and obtaining permission to use images of the deceased. The code also regulates a collector’s resale representations regarding matters such as the provenance, authenticity and place of origin.

Artwork agreements

Collectors must have a written or oral artwork agreement with the artist or their representative prior to any purchase. The code provides minimum terms for artwork agreements including: payment details and dates; specific cooling off periods; delivery timelines; finishing deadlines; and complaint handling procedures. A written copy of this compulsory artwork agreement must be provided by dealers at the artists or their representative’s request. Payment details must also be agreed upon with the artist prior to the delivery of any artwork, including payment dates, amounts and methods.

Documentation & Reporting

For the first resale of an artwork valued over $250, a written code certificate must be provided by the first purchaser of the work, listing details such as the purchase date, artist name and provenance. A collector who has entered into an artist’s agreement with an artist must provide the artist with a dealer’s report a maximum of six months after an artwork agreement made. This report must include details such as the artwork date and price and the time it was delivered to the dealer.

The code also contains additional regulations for agents and specific provisions governing complaint handling, care of artwork and sanctions for breach.