For some years now I have been suggesting that increased interest and a major market for Aboriginal art was building in America. Several private collections have gone on tour at serious art museums, individual artists like Warlimpirrnga Tjapaltjarri have had sell-out shows in New York, and gifting by the likes of Dennis Scholl and husband and wife team Robert Kaplan and Margaret Levi has been warmly accepted by major museums. Subsequently, Aussie gallerist Tim Olsen has opened a dedicated Indigenous outlet in New York and it’s rumoured that Sotheby’s International’s annual Aboriginal art sale will move from London to New York.
It started with the ‘Dreamings‘ show at the Asia Society Gallery in New York in 1988 when the first generation of American collectors “ including Kaplan/Levi and John Kluge “ were inspired to visit remote Australia and accumulate significant collections of Aboriginal art. And now that 30-year-old legacy is being examined at the Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection of the University of Virginia “ the largest accumulation of the art outside Australia “ which will present a major symposium this week to explore the role of Indigenous Australian art in the United States, its growth over the past three decades and its place in today’s contemporary art world.
Beyond Dreamings: Three Decades of Indigenous Australian Art in the U.S.A, which opens on Thursday/today, takes a thoughtful look back at a landmark exhibition ” Dreamings: The Art of Aboriginal Australia. That exhibit was the first exposure to Aboriginal art for many Americans, and it inspired John W. Kluge and other major collectors to fall in love with Aboriginal art.
Renowned Kuninjku bark painter and sculptor Balang John Mawurndjul will speak about his life’s work during the symposium. One of his early bark paintings “ the 1986 work, ‘Lightning Figure’ – was included in the Dreamings exhibition. Last year, he was the focus of I am the old and the new, a retrospective exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney and the Art Gallery of South Australia in Adelaide. Linguist and anthropologist Murray Garde will be on hand to translate for Mawurndjul.
Djon Mundine, an Indigenous curator who organised the Aboriginal Memorial at the National Gallery of Australia in 1988, will deliver the keynote address, Aboriginal Art Over the Last 30 Years in a conversation with Margo Smith, Kluge-Ruhe’s director.
Friday’s events When Aboriginal Art Became Fine Art, a panel featuring Fred Myers, John Carty, Chris Anderson, Francoise Dussart, and Peter Sutton “ the latter trio all involved in the original ‘Dreamings‘ exhibition and publication – and Mawurndjul will discuss his work with Garde. Later, Indigenous Australian Art in Contemporary Art Discourse will be analysed by Maia Nuku from The Met, Henry F. Skerritt, Terry Smith and Djon Mundine.
On Saturday, the impact of 30 years of Aboriginal art on the local scene will emerge via a Gallery Talk featuring nine UVa graduate student curators who have also created an exhibition juxtaposing original ‘Dreamings‘ works and contemporary Aboriginal art.
I wonder why no-one in Australia – such as the SA Museum – has thought to commemorate this significant anniversary?
Artist: Warlimpirrnga Tjapaltjarri, John Mawurndjul, Shorty Lungkata, Michael Nelson Jagamara,
Gallery: Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection ,