(Media-Newswire.com) – Ithaca, NY”The Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art at Cornell University presents Icons of the Desert: Early Aboriginal Paintings from Papunya, which will be on view at the Museum beginning in January 2009.

Drawn from a private collection, these dynamic, pulsating compositions capture Aboriginal painters’ first-ever attempts to record traditional ceremonial imagery on a permanent surface, and represent an important cultural reassertion on the part of Australia’s indigenous peoples, said Andrew C. Weislogel, assistant curator and master teacher at the Johnson Museum.

Roger Benjamin, Research Professor in Art History/Actus Foundation Lecturer in Aboriginal Art at the Power Institute, University of Sydney, of which he previously served as director, will be the exhibition curator and chief contributor to the catalogue. An internationally recognized authority on French modernism and cross-cultural art ( particularly Orientalist painting from North Africa ), Professor Benjamin has also been a significant occasional commentator on Aboriginal art since 1990. He has curated three international loan shows of French art in the past decade, two for Australian state galleries and one for the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute of Williamstown, Mass. His 2003 book, Orientalist Aesthetics: Art, Colonialism, and French North Africa, 1880“1930, won the prestigious Robert Motherwell Book Award.

Professor Fred Myers, head of Anthropology at New York University, will also contribute to the catalogue. Professor Myers undertook his doctoral research at Papunya from 1973“75, when the movement was still in formation. He witnessed certain paintings in the exhibition being executed, made sketches and analyses of them at the time, and befriended the leading artists as part of his research on the social and religious life of the Pintupi people.

Associate Professor Vivian Johnson, Australian Research Council Professorial Fellow at the Centre for Cross-Cultural Research ( Canberra ), is a leading author on Western and Central Desert art who will also contribute to the catalogue. A sociologist by training, Professor Johnson has been a close associate of artists in the Papunya community since 1980.

The field’s leading Indigenous curator, Hetti Perkins, curator of the Art Gallery of New South Wales’s groundbreaking 2000 exhibition Papunya Tula, Genesis and Genius, Sydney, will provide a preface. In addition, the voices of painters themselves will be heard in the form of a multigenerational interview conducted by Alice Springs“based ethnographer, historian, and author Dick Kimber. A former art adviser for the Papunya Tula artists’ collective, Kimber was a secondary school teacher at Papunya in 1971 when the paintings were first being made. Plans are now also underway to bring Dick Kimber and an Aboriginal painter to speak in conjunction with the exhibition at Cornell.

This exhibition will bring the unique beauty and spiritual insight of these artists and their culture to a wider audience, said Frank Robinson, Richard J. Schwartz Director of the Museum.

Following its appearance at the Johnson Museum, Icons of the Desert will travel to the Fowler Museum of Cultural History at the University of California, Los Angeles, and the Grey Art Gallery at New York University during 2009 ( final dates to be announced ). The exhibition and catalogue are supported by a grant from the Actus Foundation, New York.

The Johnson Museum has a permanent collection of over 30,000 works of art from Africa, Asia, Europe, and North and South America. The museum building was designed by I. M. Pei. Funds for the building were donated by Cornell alumnus Herbert F. Johnson, late president and chairman of S C Johnson. The building opened in 1973.


The Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, located on the campus of Cornell University, is open Tuesdays to Sundays from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Admission is free. The Museum is completely accessible for mobility-impaired visitors, and a wheelchair is available in the lobby. Metered parking is available in the lot next to the Museum. For more information, please call 607 255-6464. Visit the Museum’s website at www.museum.cornell.edu. The Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art is a proud member of Ithaca’s Discovery Trail: www.DiscoveryTrail.com.