Jeremy Eccles scans the most lavish book of Aboriginal art in years

Beyond Sacred‘ : Recent Paintings from Australia’s remote Aboriginal communities.
Designed by Jane Kleinmeyer
Published by Hardie Grant Books @ $120
Edited by Colin and Elizabeth Laverty
Contributions from Judith Ryan, Nick Waterlow, Will Owen, Howard Morphy and community art coordinators such as Apolline Kohen, Will Stubbs and Andrew Blake, Emily Rohr, Tony Oliver, Paul Sweeney and John Carty (among others).

Colin Laverty has always collected art. The doctor who founded Laverty Pathology (now retired) started with Australian horse paintings, moved on to the most uncompromising of post-War local abstraction, and took the jump from there to Aboriginal art with his wife Liz following a Papunya Tula exhibition at Brisbane’s Expo in 1988. They are not followers of fashion. They are not politically correct people. They love the art, and have made huge efforts to visit and understand the worlds from which it arises.

They also have a great eye for the best artists and the best work of those artists. Of course they also have the money, the reputation and the continuity to justify art coordinators and dealers calling up to say that something special has just come in. Sometimes they go round familiar corners to discover almost unknown artists like Willy Billabong Japanangka from Halls Creek or Dinah Guradji from Ngukurr; at others they highlight an under-appreciated star such as Alma Webou Kalajou from Bidyadanga with the help of an understanding commentary from her representative, Emily Rohr. But then they leave out the amazing Pit and Nganjatjarra Lands flowering from the book if not the Collection) completely.

A fascinating subject for debate; maybe they had no one capable of annotation like Rohr’s? Or maybe the art challenged the book’s strong subtext “ to prove the contemporary values of remote Aboriginal creativity? Rohr, for instance notes that Webou offers no explanation of the work she does or the country it represents, and comes from a clan that has no other members at Bidyadanga. This leaves her work to be viewed very much in a contemporary art framework, she concludes.

One of the four backgrounding texts goes even further; multiple Biennale curator Nick Waterlow makes the claim for three equally defining non-figurative art movements in the world in the 20^th Century – Malevich et al, de Kooning/Pollock et al, and the Papunya artists of the 1970s.

Nicolas Rothwell, in The Australian, on the other hand, reviewing the book, sees a mysterious art with a core beyond its visible heart…the precise reverse of the contemporary…the secret Westerners want and seek to buy, but cannot have. I wonder whether the Lavertys really crave such cabala?

Make up your own minds “ and if the book is too pricy, Newcastle Regional Gallery is putting on an 87-work exhibition from 5th July to 31st August.