The Aboriginal Art Directory has had an opportunity to interview Dr Georges Petitjean, AAMU Curator. Our first question to him was, what will happen to the AAMU Permanent Collection?
GP: We hope to find another museum or institution to take over the Collection so that it will remain on public display. Our Board is looking at possibilities within the Netherlands but it might be difficult to maintain the Collection in its entirety (as there are between 800 to 850 works). So we may distill 100 to 150 of the very best works out of the Collection to form a core collection, which could then be taken over by another institution.
Aboriginal Art Directory: Are you keen to keep the Collection in the Netherlands or is the Board open to it being acquired by external institutions?
GP: We are open, but as the Museum has been here for the last 16 years we would like to consider what options there are in the Netherlands first.
Aboriginal Art Directory: Tell us about the AAMU Permanent Collection.
GP: The works in it are very broad-ranging. The first 500 pieces, which were donated by the benefactor and founder of the Museum, are mainly from Central Australia and Arnhem Land but we have added the number substantially with acquisitions, artworks from artists who have exhibited in the Museum like Brook Andrew (whose work was purchased from the AAMU 2008 Theme Park Exhibition). We have also received donations from private collectors including Thomas Vroom, the famous Dutch collector, and donations from other institutions as well. From the original collection of 500 pieces it has grown to around 850 works.
Aboriginal Art Directory: What is your favourite piece in the Collection?
GP: That is a difficult question because as the Curator of the Museum I will say that we have several wonderful artworks! We have acquired artworks from a number of premium sources, including the Telstra Art Award, and one of those is definitely one of the strongest in the Collection, a work by Wakartu Cory Surprise (Mangkaja) which we bought in 2008 – and it’s is certainly one of the strongest works by that artist.
We also have an important installation of 12 Law Poles donated to us by the Wik people in Cape York. They came here for that donation with a delegation of 10 people. These Law Poles are very important and illustrated in the last reprint of the Aboriginal art book of Wally Caruana.
We have all the major names: Rover Thomas, Paddy Bedford, Emily Kngwarreye… We also hold an important work by Brook Andrew, a neon installation.
So yes, I think I can name a number of individual works but I think it’s also the current Collection in itself which is of value as a collection.
Aboriginal Art Directory: Who established the AAMU?
GP: It was founded by private collectors of Indigenous Australian art whose passion led to its creation. For the day-to-day functioning of the Museum, the AAMU depends on an Association of Friends. We have had some funding from other sources, the equivalent of the Australia Council for the Arts in the Netherlands and other funding, but that’s been more project-based.
Aboriginal Art Directory: When did you join the AAMU?
GP: I became the Curator of the Museum in September 2005 so it will have been almost 12 years when the Museum closes. I am the second curator to hold that position since the beginning of the Museum in 2001.
Aboriginal Art Directory: So you’ve had a hand in developing the Museum into what it is today.
GP: My background is as an art historian. The brief of the Museum has always been to present contemporary art, we were never in an anthropological Museum, it was always a Museum for Contemporary Art in the first instance. So some of the exhibitions we have had included non-Indigenous arts from Australia, Europe and Africa. We’ve had a number of solo exhibitions, the last retrospective of Gordon Bennett and a major show of Paddy Bedford. Some of our shows have focussed on one particular region (e.g. the Kimberley in ‘Country to Coast’), while other shows were thematic.
We’ve also had exhibitions where we went broader. For instance, we had an exhibition in which we showed not only Indigenous Australian art but art from CoBrA artists. (The CoBrA movement was an abstract expressionist movement in the Netherlands and Western Europe in the late 40s to early 50s.) That exhibition also included works by non-Indigenous Australian artists, such as David Larwill amongst others.
So in that sense, over the last 10 years we’ve been actively seeking connection with the larger art world.
Aboriginal Art Directory: The AAMU has certainly played an important role in promoting Aboriginal art in Europe.
GP: It’s the only museum in Europe that is solely dedicated to contemporary Australian Aboriginal art – the only other museum outside of Australia being the Kluge-Ruhe Collection in Virginia.
During the past 17 years the AAMU has been relentlessly promoting all aspects of Indigenous Australian arts: city-based, from remote communities, a range of diverse media from bark paintings, sculpture and acrylics from the desert to neon installations, video and photography – it has endeavored to show Indigenous Australian art in the largest scope possible. It has also invited artists to exhibit, and working closely with artists, and it has raised interest for Indigenous Australian art amongst an entire generation because our public also for quite a large part exists of school groups that have been growing up with Indigenous Australian arts.
But it has also become over the years a kind of embassy for Aboriginal art and Aboriginal people. That is perhaps most illustrated in the recent opening of an exhibition by the King and Queen of the Netherlands, and also with visits of several Aboriginal artists to the Netherlands – for instance, the representatives of the Wik people from the Cape York Peninsula came here with Law Poles which were presented to the President of the Senate (given in commemoration of the 400th anniversary of the first contact between the Dutch and Aboriginal people in 1606). Two ministers have also opened AAMU exhibitions, a Dutch Minister for Foreign Affairs and a Dutch Minister for the Arts & Culture. Several exhibitions were also opened by Australian ambassadors to the Netherlands so it has become a platform for diplomacy as well.
Only quite recently we worked with the NGA on their internship program, we had an Indigenous intern working at the last exhibition, funded by Wesfarmers. That, of course, will be falling away, unfortunately.
Aboriginal Art Directory: Which bring us back to the reason the funding is ending.
GP: The Friends Association of AAMU has been providing funding since the existence of the museum, but this was not a commitment that would last indefinitely. The Board of Directors always hoped that other funding would follow from the Netherlands or from Australia for operations. Of course, it will still be a miracle if someone would jump up and say, “I’ll support that Museum!”.
Aboriginal Art Directory: What is your favourite exhibition so far?
GP: There was an exhibition we did in 2008 called Nomads in Art. That exhibition included four desert artists: Dorothy Napangardi, Kathleen Petyarre, Lilly Kelly Napangardi and Jackie Kurltjunyintja Giles and also included the work of Belgian artist-poet, Marcel Broodthaers (1924-1976), a conceptual artist who recently had a retrospective at MOMA in New York. That was definitely one the exhibits I consider to be one of my favourites, yes.
Aboriginal Art Directory: A new exhibition opens on 21st January, tell us about that.
GP: The upcoming exhibition, Tracking Memories, has memory as its principal theme, and in particular the visualisation of the collective memory of history. Memory is one of the most important themes in Indigenous Australian art. Next to works from desert communities – amongst which the characteristic Tinagri Cycle paintings, which are quite directly visualisations of the memory of the creation of country (the Dreamings) – other highlights will include a major piece by Michael Cook. His Object (Lamp, Table, Vase, Footstool, Ashtray) was shown in one of the collateral events of the last Venice Biennale. In this powerful work, in which roles are reversed, Cook explores colonial history and the history of slavery.
Next to Indigenous Australian artworks from the AAMU collection, there will be African sculptures, so-called ‘colon’ sculptures. These are wooden sculptures that are found in several countries in the east, the west and the south of Africa. They typically represent colonial figures and hence represent the memory of the colonial era in these countries. Remarkably, they were at first not perceived to be ‘authentic’ by collectors because of their reflection on recent history.
Beside these sculptures there will also be a number of works by European artists that also work with the idea of collective memory.
All the artworks will merge into one large installation.
Aboriginal Art Directory: We hope the AAMU does get that miracle and that Aboriginal art can continue its relationship with you.
GP: Yes, it will be wonderful for the AAMU to get funding. I have been involved with Aboriginal art for the last 25 years of my life so I hope to continue my work with Aboriginal art and exhibition projects.
If you would like to support the AAMU or have any enquiries please contact the Museum directly, details under.
Artist: Gordon Bennet, Michael Cook, Brook Andrew, Wakartu Cory Surprise, Rover Thomas, Paddy Bedford, Emily Kngwarreye,
Tags: AAMU , Cape York , CoBrA movement , David Larwill , dorothy napangardi , Georges Petitjean , jackie kurltjunyintja giles , kathleen petyarre , King and Queen of the Netherlands , kluge-ruhe , lilly kelly napangardi , Marcel Broodthaers , MONA , Netherlands , Telstra Art Award , Thomas Vroom , wally caruana , Wik ,