The painting that briefly set the record for Aboriginal art, and still holds the record for a painting by an Australian woman “ Emily Kngwarreye’s ‘Earth’s Creation’ “ is now on show in Alice Springs.
During the 2007 peak in Aboriginal art prices, the Emily came up for sale at Lawson Menzies on May 23rd, and (with the help of the auction house buyer’s premium) cracked the million dollar barrier. Just 2 months later, Sotheby’s was able to offer Clifford Possum’s ‘Warlugulong’, a masterwork by the artist from 1977, and woo the National Gallery into parting with $2.4million “ a price unlikely to be topped for some time.
But ‘Earth’s Creation’ “ consisting of 4 panels of painting totalling 11 metres in width “ wasn’t bought by a public institution; it was bought by Tim Jennings, the long-time owner of the Mbantua Art store in Alice, where the painting is now on display in his private Museum.
Why would a dealer go out so far on a limb for himself “ not a client?
Well he answers that question at length in a splendid blog on the Mbantua website (see below). And he does so without once mentioning the rumour around in 2007 that the mighty work was destined to grace a wine bar in part of his extensive city centre premises! Which is good. But, summed up, there’s a deal of history involving Jennings and the artist “ going back to 1985, even before she moved to canvas, and continuing through to her death, involving her great-nephew Fred Torres who actually commissioned ‘Earth’s Creation’ in 1994 for an Adelaide bank, and ending with his patriotic view that such a work should ‘come home’ to Alice, the conduit through which so much Utopia art has flowed to the world.
It must also have encouraged Jennings that curator Margo Neale had anointed the painting with selection for her 1998 retrospective of Emily’s work at the Queensland Art Gallery despite some aesthetic questions about the wild work of that phases in the artist’s constantly-changing oeuvre. Indeed, Neale has now dubbed that phase ‘Colourism’ in her recent Japanese outing for ‘The Genius of Emily Kngwarreye’ “ which certainly describes that middle time well, before striped body markings and massive tangles of yam roots took over.
As recently as this year, as Mbantua lent the work to the NT Parliament on its way home from Japan, Jennings made a speech also recognising the potential value of his investment: When Mbantua purchased this painting it was reported in some National Press that ˜Earth’s Creation’ was more important to Australia than ˜Blue Poles’. ˜Blue Poles’ as you know was painted by an American and is now reputedly valued at $60m. Why would some people say that ˜Earth’s Creation’ is more important to Australia than Blue Poles?
I believe some of the argument is “
1)˜Earth’s Creation’ was painted by a genius Australian without any formal or informal art training “ without any training at all. And she couldn’t read or write, nor did she have more than twenty English words in her vocabulary. Her languages were ancient Australian ones “ Anmatyerre and Alyawarr.
2)Emily was of course also a female Indigenous Australian “ bush born and full blood, who was raised and lived the majority of her life around the real Aboriginal culture. That is, ˜Mythology’, ˜Initiation’, ˜Ceremony’ and ˜Sacred Sites’. Combine those four and we have the ˜Dreamtime’.
3)The female Australian Aboriginal artist, at the age of eighty or thereabouts, combined deep rooted Aboriginal lifestyle with being a modern, contemporary, abstract painter.
Over the years I have stated many times that Aboriginal Art is the bridge of cultures. With paintings of the magnitude of ˜Earth’s Creation’, Emily is reaching out to the world. She is putting both Australia and Aboriginal culture on the map.
What does ˜Earth’s Creation’ represent? Simply stated “ Everything, Whole lot, as Emily used to say. If you stare into her paintings and in your minds eye you see something “ then that is what it is!
The painting initially was going to be on exhibition in Darwin’s Parliament House for only a month, but the Speaker, Jane Agaard was so impressed with it, she asked if they could extend for a further month – which Mbantua did. For Mbantua is a Territory institution that’s been around for many years…right back to the 1950’s.
I bought the Store business from Finke River Mission in 1987, says Tim Jennings and combined it with the business I had been setting up in Utopia from 1985. Aboriginal Art had been sold from Mbantua Store for many decades before I came along.
And no doubt it will for many years to come.
Artist: Emily Kngwarreye, Clifford Possum
Category: Australia ,
Tags: Aboriginal art at auction , alice springs , emily kngwarreye , mbantua gallery , tim jennings , utopia ,
Gallery: Mbantua Gallery ,