Exhibition News: Icons of the Desert


Detail of Mystery Sand Mosaic, 1974, by Shorty Lungkarta Tjungurrayi, courtesy of the estate of the artist, and reproduced by permission of Papunya Tula Artists through the Aboriginal Artists Agency, Sydney.

The largest exhibition in the United States to date of seminal works of contemporary Aboriginal painting from central Australia will open on January 10 at Cornell University’s Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art in Ithaca, NY. Icons of the Desert: Early Aboriginal Paintings from Papunya features dozens of works drawn from the collection of John and Barbara Wilkerson, most dating back to the earliest years of painting at Papunya, 1971-1972.

The exhibition at Cornell will run until April 5, 2009. After that it will travel to the Fowler Museum of Cultural History at the University of California, Los Angeles from May 3 through August 2, 2009 before returning to the east coast and the Grey Art Gallery at New York University from September 1 through December 5, 2009. Cornell University Press will be publishing an extensively illustrated catalog edited by curator Roger Benjamin to accompany the exhibition in February. In addition to Benjamin, contributors to the catalog include Dick Kimber, Vivien Johnson, Fred Myers, and Hetti Perkins.

On Saturday, February 14, the Johnson Museum, with support from the Actus Foundation and the Cornell Council for the Arts, will present a day-long symposium, “Papunya Then and Now.” This event will be preceded by a lecture, “Aboriginal Art from Papunya Tula: From the Beginning,” at the Museum on Thursday, February 12 at 5:15 pm by Roger Benjamin, and a reception on Friday, February 13 at 5:00 pm. Additionally, the Cornell CinemaAustralian Film Series will screening four films from January 29 to February 12, including Geoff Bardon’s rarely seen masterpiece, Mick and the Moon(1978) and the thoroughly delightful contact history Benny and the Dreamers (1993), which star Mick Namarari Tjaplatjarri and Benny Tjapaltjarri, respectively. Supplementing these films of the Papunya Tula greats will be Rolf de Heer’s The Tracker (2002) and Ten Canoes (2006).

The Symposium itself seems certain to be a blazing light in the wintry firmament of upstate New York. Australian and American scholars will join with artists and representatives of Papunya Tula Artists for the following schedule of presentations, led off by Benjamin’s keynote address. Please note that the Symposium is free but requires advance registration and seating is limited. Contact Elizabeth Sagesse and provide your name, email address, mailing address, and daytime phone number. The Ithaca Visitors Bureau can provide information about local arrangements.

Symposium Details

The Fetish for Papunya Boards 
Roger Benjamin, guest curator, Research Professor in Art History and Actus Foundation Lecturer in Aboriginal Art, Power Institute Foundation for Art & Visual Culture, University of Sydney 

Enduring Value: Pintupi Painting at Yayayi and Beyond 
Fred Myers, Silver Professor and Chair, Department of Anthropology, New York University 

Art and Life in Early Papunya Painting: A Biographical Perspective 
Vivien Johnson, New South Global Professor, Faculties of Arts and Social Sciences, Law, and College of Fine Arts, University of New South Wales 

Texture, Tactility, and Touch: The Feminization of the Dreaming 
Jennifer Biddle, Senior Research Fellow, Centre for Contemporary Art and Politics, College of Fine Arts, University of New South Wales 

Papunya Tula Artists Today 
Paul Sweeney, Manager of Papunya Tula Artists, Alice Springs, Northern Territory 

Artist’s Talk 
Bobby West Tjupurrula, Papunya Tula artist and son of first generation Papunya painter Freddy West Tjakamarra 

Ground Work Installation Discussion 
Bobby West Tjupurrula and Joseph Jurra Tjapaltjarri, artists with the Papunya Tula Artists collective, Alice Springs, Northern Territory, with Fred Myers and Paul Sweeney 

Stay tuned for further posts about the exhibition and seminar as events unfold.

Happy New Year!

Photo credits: (above left) Johnny Scobie Tjapanangka, Pintupi Women’s Bush Tucker Dreaming, 1972, courtesy of the estate of the artist, reproduced by permission of Papunya Tula Artists through the Aboriginal Artists Agency, Sydney; (above right) Old Walter Tjampitjinpa, Rainbow and Water Story, 1972, courtesy of the estate of the artist, reproduced by permission of Papunya Tula Artists through the Aboriginal Artists Agency, Sydney; (below) Yumpululu Tjungurrayi, Cave Story, 1972, courtesy of the estate of the artist, reproduced by permission of Papunya Tula Artists through the Aboriginal Artists Agency, Sydney.

Exhibition Details

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