While the rest of the world seems to be discovering and relishing the art and culture of Arnhemland, the best exhibition I’ve seen recently here has been surprisingly unappreciated. And as it’s from the same rich source as America’s widely-reviewed ‘Madayin’ – which is about to depart its first venue at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire and head for the Katzen Museum in Washington – while echoes of the amazing Plewig Collection with many a Yolngu work surely still resonate in Munich, it’s counter-intuitive that the current Buku Larrnggay show at Annandale Galleries in Sydney might be cold-shouldered.

For ‘Yutaguma/Make It New’ has some wondrous works on view. You enter via three striking works by Garawan Wanambi, whose geometric representations of a spring on a beach have turned into bolder, black and white op art images. In the main room, the great Djambawa Marawili contributes a couple of major works despite all his international efforts in New Hampshire and national work as a community elder.

Over the way, his wife Liyawaday Wirrpanda has a pair of works so delicate they could only be a woman’s work, but the shark in one, fading in and out of her miny’tji marking is rich in legend as it travels underground to surface and name significant features such as the rock at its snout.

Yinimala Gumana – nephew of the mighty Garriwin Gumana – is proving the master of Buwayak, the style that Annandale’s gallerist, Bill Gregory first translated it as ‘Invisibility’ for one of his regular Buku exhibitions in 2003. At the time, Buku Director, Will Stubbs explained that disguising the sacred was a key aspect of Yolngu law, so Buwayak was a way of painting so that mythic figuration begins to disappear. Could it also have been a way to clearly move away from the ethnographic and display the artist’s aesthetic skills, while still communicating the essence to the initiated?

Please note the pair of fish in Gumana’s work, extracted by my camera.

But as if to prove my thesis wrong, there’s a virtually traditional work by Yinimala Gumana, entitled ‘Barama’. Perhaps you simply can’t disguise the figure said to be “the most powerful of the Yirritja Creator Beings as it was he who brought the law and its associated iconography, paraphernalia and power to the Country”. This allowed the Yirritja clans to live in coexistence with the Dhuwa. But what confident use of the Yirritja’s diamond patterning that surrounds the god.

Some high prices of course, though some very reasonable larrikitj by the young Nongu Ganambarr.

So why is the market resisting?

I have to speculate that it may be because they’re not actually barks! Yolngu regulation that insist that sacred stories can only be represented on material from the land is being stretched constantly in East Arnhemland. I seem to recall that Bangarra Dance left some stage boards behind which were swooped upon by artists like Guynbi Ganambarr to make art when it wasn’t tthe bark-collecting season. Now it seems that building sites all over Yirrkala, Nhuylunbuy and Gove have been raided to find nice regular boards of great size. The art they’ve inspired is great – but somehow the sheer regularity of the canvas takes time to come to terms with.

Could there also be a factor by which Annandale’s exclusive showing of Buku Larrnggay’s finest art in Sydney over many years has been diminished by individual artists appearing at other galleries, and all of Buku’s artists popping up at ever more frequent art fairs, well publicised as “ethical” and invariably online.

No doubt congratulations are due, but the Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair has recently touted over a million dollars in online sales this year, with almost the same number of buyers as spent $3.5m at the physical event in Darwin. No wonder they can follow-up with promotions for the Tarnanthi Art Fair in Adelaide and the AIATSIS Art Fair in Canberra.

The market is undoubtedly in flux.