Curators, journalists, and visitors, even the ABC (“Desert Mob sales strong“), have all pronounced the 2011 edition of Desert Mob a resounding success, and I can find no reason to disagree with them. This year there are 33 art centres participating, up from 13 who featured in the 1991 debut, with over 300 works gracing the halls of the Araluen Arts Centre in Alice Springs.
One of these days, I’m going to get to see the show in person, but since there’s barely enough time to catch the NATSIAA in August and fly back to the United States before the opening of the fall semester and the start of the new school year, I guess it may be a while. I’ve had a better look this year than any before, though, thanks to the spanking new Desert Mob website and the impressive online gallery of the submitted works. Having photographs of all the art is brilliant (if somewhat jealousy inducing); even better, the name of the artist, the dimensions, and the selling price of each work is displayed along with the image, as well as in a handy mouseover on each thumbnail that appears. And since the show is organized by art centre, it’s easy to find everything. (NATSIAA webmasters, please take note! This kind of documentation is the brick and mortar of art history.)
Nicolas Rothwell published his annual review of the exhibition in The Australian on September 13 (“Visions of a changing topography“) and although he can’t quite resist tolling the funeral bell, or at least suggesting that it might be about to ring, the sheer vivacity and inventiveness of this year’s collection triumphs in the end over his fears for the future of the Indigenous art movement. He perspicaciously notes that, while the emergence of new centres throughout the APY Lands can hardly be seen as a new phenomenon any longer, each year a different group of artists seems to surge forward in an unanticipated show of strength. This year he gives the nod to Iwantja Arts, and praises the “compelling” work from Yarrenyty Arltere, the innovations of Tangentyere Artists and the vitality of the Greenbush Art Group; in the case of the last three, it is wonderful to see the home team strike to advantage in Alice.
I’m delighted, too, by Rothwell’s characterization of curator Stephen Williamson as “subtle.” It’s an unusual epithet to award someone who has produced an extraordinary and dramatic hang for the show this year, but it is entirely apt. Williamson’s juxtapositions and variations only add to the shimmer of the artworks’ presence on the gallery walls. He is also to be praised for managing to pack the halls with so much work and somehow keeping it from overwhelming the space and allowing each work to shine amidst the aggregate glory of color.
Williamson has also, most fortunately, absolved me on the need to say any more about the show’s brilliance by sharing with me a set of stunning images of the galleries in all their fabulous raiment. If, like me, you couldn’t be there this year, or if you were among the fortunate attendees, I’m sure you will thoroughly enjoy these photographs.
As I was finishing off this post I came upon Kieran Finnane’s warm and generous review of Desert Mob in a recent edition of the Alice Springs News (“Creative drive in the desert goes deep,” September 15, 2011). I commend it to you highly, especially for its reportage on some of the surrounding events, including the symposium and the tribute show for Jimmy Baker hosted by Dallas Gold at Raft Artspace. There is also a link to very nice slideshow on Flickr that offers especially good photographs of some of the sculptural and ceramic pieces from Ernabella, Greenbush, and Yarrenyty Arltere.