At the height of the global financial crisis in 2009, the sale of Indigenous art hit an all-time low, galleries around Australia closed their doors and many artists simply stopped painting because they could not sell their work, the ABC reported from the recent Tarnanthi Art Fair in Adelaide. But now the market for young and emerging artists has become the strongest it has been, as Indigenous artists bypass dealers and take greater control of promoting and selling their own art.
It was the Indigenous elders who led the reform, explained APY Art Collective General Manager Skye O’Meara.”Now, it’s the highest level of participation we’ve seen in APY Art Centres,” she said.
Fair enough, you’d think “ and it was precisely this promise that young and emerging artists would be the prime beneficiaries of the newish APY Arts Centre Collective Gallery in Sydney that made the arrival of this challenge to the long-established art galleries that had been serving artists of the APY Lands (in northern South Australia) since they burst on to the Aboriginal art scene early this century seem quite justifiable.
But, if you search Sydney today, that promise has gone the way of all flesh. Just about everywhere you look, the top artists from the APY Lands are showing their finest canvases “ at the Collective Gallery itself, at Tim Olsen’s rarely Indigenous commercial gallery, the Hazelhurst public gallery; they’ve even got a dance troupe coming to the Opera House during the Dance Rites festival, all courtesy of the APY Art Centre Collective. Everywhere, that is except at Gabriella Roy’s Aboriginal & Pacific Art Gallery that was the Lands’ regular dealer for so many years, with a remarkably high hit rate of selling art to collectors and institutions.
Of course, this new world is a triumph for Skye O’Meara “ who created the Collective out of nothing just a few years ago after many years at one of its member centres “ Tjala Arts in Amata. Clearly, she felt that the existing regional support organisation, Ku Arts, was failing. And it must be a joy for the artists to be able to capitalise on their repeated successes at the Wynne Prize in the Art Gallery of NSW.
There is little doubt that the entrepreneurial convert, Tim Olsen has more to offer those top artists than Gabriella Roy “ but not, I suspect those young and emerging artists touted by O’Meara. For he has big, white walls well capable of showing off two or two and a half metre canvases by la crÃ¨me de la creme. He has a clientele at the heart of arty Paddington and wealthy Woollahra who are fresh to Aboriginal art and may be tempted to shell out sums in the twenty thousands for the novelty “ and the quality of a fine Wawiriya Burton, a magical Watarru Collaborative, a classic, John Olsenesque Yaritji Young, or a feisty young Michelle Lewis.
And….he has a new venture in the States, the Olsen Gruin Gallery in New York, which has had some success with Aboriginal art, but which is, henceforward, going to be dedicated to the APY Lands when it shows Aboriginal art. Plans exist for LA transfers too next year.
But here’s what Ms O’Meara thinks about dealers in general: Traditionally, artists in remote communities relied on art dealers and high-end galleries to sell their work, and that privilege was often reserved to just a handful of high-profile painters. Some of the lesser-known artists were subjected to shonky dealers, who paid just a pittance of what the work was sold for. While that is still an issue, art trade fairs are popping up in capital cities and regional towns around the nation as a popular and ethical way for art lovers to buy directly from artists – or at least the art centres, which take their cut too, of course.
Which raises the question, of course “ just how much is left for the artist after their own art centre, the APY Art Centre Collective and Olsen Gallery have all taken their cuts?
This weekend, two more major APY shows open in Sydney. The first is the second effort by the excellent Hazelhurst Art Gallery at Gymea to feature Anangu art. The first – Nganampa Kililpil:Â Our Stars “ offered a rich variety of the art, dabbled in the on-going Kulata Tjuta [Many Spears] project in which elders have been engaging their male youth through the making and the peaceful display of wooden spears, brought the women elders from the seven tiny communities together for a magnificent collaborative, and captured the spirit of both dead and dying elders. Skye O’Meara’s APY Art Centre Hub (as it was then called) was much involved.
The Collaborative is now in a partnership role with Hazelhurst for Weapons for the Soldier – which, interestingly, seems to have no Anangu name. This is a project initiated by the young men of the Lands – Vincent Namatjira, Aaron Ken, Derek Thompson, Anwar Young and Kamurin Young – with the support of senior artists Willy Kaika Burton, Ray Ken, Peter Mungkuri, Mumu Mike Williams and Frank Young. The title resonates with great force for the young Anangu, for it is a subject that Ray Ken and Mumu Mike Williams have explored in paintings throughout their careers, often painting or incorporating weapons in their art with stories of conflict to explore what it means to fight to protect your land.
For this exhibition, Vincent and the young men connected with other Blak and non-Indigenous artists who they saw as peers; artists who have inspired them in a process where their commitment to cultural protocols is maintained. The young men have examined war themes in their work to date: Vincent painting oft-overlooked Indigenous soldiers, and Anwar and Kamurin Young committed themselves to developing high level expertise in traditional weapons, which saw Anwar and his father share the ‘Big Telstra’ prize in Darwin last year. The ongoing Kulata Tjuta project which was initiated by senior artists in 2010, offers an opportunity to hear Indigenous voices of both generations and to honour the tjilpies of the APY Lands.
Developed for the ANZAC Centenary (with government ANZAC funding), the exhibition will foster dialogue around multi-geographical and multi-generational fights for land, Country and freedom experienced by Australians, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, as well as the Indigenous experience in Australian military history.
The Official Opening will be held at Hazelhurst on Sunday 11 November 2018, marking the 100th anniversary of the Armistice which ended the First World War.
The previous Friday night will see the opening at the APY Art Centre Collective Gallery of Nganampa ara kunpu kanyintjaku; Yangupala tjutaku tjukurpa – To be strong is to keep culture safe; A young fella story. This is an exhibition by youthful male artists which explores themes of connection to Country and protecting culture, Country and family “ with spears. The exhibition showcases works by Samuel Miller, Jimmy Donnegan, the Mitakiki Men, Eric Barney, Noah Long, Robert Burton and Kunmanara (Brenton) Ken and will reveal the latest Kulata Tjuta installation from Tjala Arts as well as works fromÂ Maruku’s punu (wood) artists. Having employed 550 suspended spears in an artistic response at the first Tarnanthi Festival to the nuclear weapons testing on their Country at Maralinga, the senior artists now wish to install a larger volume of spears in the next iteration of the project (between 1000 – 1200) to create a willy-willy “ in Pitjantjatjara, a kupi kupi “ though the work in Sydney is not yet that.
Skye O’Meara will surely have a role in that kupi-kupi.
Our paintings mark time, declares Frank Young, Anangu Elder from Amata. This show celebrates the lives of three important leaders Kunmanara Ken, Kunmanara Ken and Kunmanara Martin – three Tjilpis who were serious about their roles of instructing culture to younger generations in their art centre. This is work that has been undertaken for thousands of years as our culture has travelled down family lines through the ancestors.
Your grandsons will hold your lessons. We all will.
The key connection between the two shows is undoubtedly the works of Kunmanara (Ray) Ken “ whose last works are on show in the APY Collective Gallery. For the long-term title of his works, ‘Weapons for the Soldier’ has been borrowed for the Hazelhurst show, his fine canvas of that name dominates the room “ flanked by a bundle of lethal-looking spears made by the young men of the APY Lands “ and the triptych of smaller, late works in Darlinghurst light up the room with an extraordinary range of colours used to illuminate his painted spears.
Do the works of non-APY artists add much to the Hazelhurst show, compared to Vincent Namatjira’s moving portraits of Aboriginal soldiers, Peter Mungkuri’s blood-red landscape or the Mitakiki Collaborative blending the classical imagery of old and young men? Many of the invited artists have simply offered works that are familiar from their normal work “ a Reko Rennie camouflage or a Steaphan Paton shield, for instance. I have to say that both Shaun Gladwell’s unfamiliar lithographs and Brook Andrew’s satires on famous James Gillray cartoons are eye- and mind-catching without having any obvious APY links. But Ben Quilty stands out for adding to his Rorschach massacre series with a giant ‘Irin Irinji’ Anangu massacre scene, with what appears to be mirrored bodies falling from a cliff on either side.
Artist: Alec Baker, Eric Barney, Willy Kaika Burton, Pepai Jangala Carroll, Taylor Cooper, Sammy Dodd, Witjiti George, Rupert Jack, Kunmanara (Brenton) Ken, Kunmanara (Ray) Ken, Hector Mitakiki, Junior Mitakiki, Kamarin Mitakiki, Kunmanara (Willy Muntjantji) Martin, Peter Mungkuri, Vincent Namatjira, Kunmanara (Jimmy) Pompey, Keith Stevens, Derek Jungarrayi Thompson, Thomas Ilytjari Tjilya, Bernard Tjalkuri, Ginger Wikilyiri, Mick Wikilyiri, Mumu Mike Williams, Anwar Young, Frank Young, Kamurin Young, Samuel Miller, Jimmy Donnegan, Eric Barney, Noah Long, Robert Burton, Tony Albert, Brook Andrew, Jonathan Jones, Danie Mellor, Steaphan Paton, Reko Rennie, Wawiriya Burton, Watarru Collaborative, Yaritji Young, Michelle Lewis, Willy Kaika Burton,
Gallery: Hazelhurst Regional Gallery & Arts Centre ,