Ancestral Modern in Seattle / Ninuku in New York

It’s another big week coming up for Aboriginal Australian art in America.

What promises to be one of the largest and most exciting museum exhibitions mounted in the US since Dreamings opens Thursday, May 31st at the Seattle Art Museum: Ancestral Modern: Australian Aboriginal Art from the Kaplan and Levi Collection.  It will feature over 100 works from the late 20th and early 21st centuries brought together by  Seattle collectors Robert Kaplan and Margaret Levi and curated by the Museum’s Pam McClusky.  Acrylics and ochres on canvas, bark paintings, sculptures of wood, fiber, and bronze along with contemporary photography will grace SAM’s galleries through early September.  The show will be accompanied by a full catalog, published by Yale University Press, and featuring essays by McClusky, Wally Caruana, Liz Graziose Corrin (Northwestern University), and Stephen Gilchrist (Dartmouth College and formerly the National Gallery of Victoria).

Kaplan and Levi have been collecting Aboriginal art since 1984; in 2007 SAM became the first major art museum in the United States to establish a permanent gallery of Australian Indigenous art, which displays the collectors’ generous gifts.  Ancestral Modern will extend far beyond that gallery, though, and present a broad spectrum of the work that Kaplan and Levi have assembled over the last quarter century.

I’m totally psyched.  Kaplan and Levi were lenders to the 2006 exhibition Dreaming Their Way: Australian Aboriginal Women Painters, which opened at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, DC, before traveling to the Hood Museum of Art at Dartmouth College.  That show gave us a taste of the impressive and discriminating eyes of this couple, so I’m sure that we’re in for quite a treat.  Stay tuned for further reporting from the Northwest.


Australian ex-pat Julie Harvey will be in Seattle as well, hosting an ancillary exhibition of work from Yirrkala, Barrku! Treasure from a Distant Land on Bainbridge Island, opening Saturday June 2.

But first, she’ll be on the other side of the continent, in New York City, to premier Manta Irititjangku Ngura Kutjupalakutu (Ancient Land New Territory): Aboriginal Art from the South Australian Desert at gallerynine5 in Soho, in conjunction with Ninuku Arts.

Ninuku Arts represents the communities of Pipalyatjara and Kalka in the western APY lands, and the exhibition in New York City will feature 30 works by a dozen artists, including the famed Harry Tjutjuna and Jimmy Donegan.  The show’s press release offers further details:

Accompanying the exhibition is a cultural program that will act as an educational tool for a new and enthusiastic audience. As part of the program, a short film will be shown which was made in Kalka community last year. The short film was self-funded by the art centre and features interviews with artists who are involved in the show, provides insight into the environment where the paintings derive and footage taken in the art centre itself. Anthropologist and fluent Pitjantjatjara speaker, Dr Diana James assisted with interviews and translations, while documentary filmmaker Rachael Thornton filmed, edited and produced the short film. Like the exhibition itself, the artists are the true stars of the film.

For the opening event, some of the artists will attend the exhibition and perform Inma – the dances and songs associated with their home in Australia. The guest artists will also share the stories of their artworks giving the audience a rare opportunity to gain personal insight into both their works and their culture. There will be a full-colour, 60 page exhibition catalogue which will be available both within Australia and internationally. It is hoped that the exhibition will spark newfound interest in the Indigenous art industry and teach people beyond Australian shores, about the celebrated culture of Indigenous Australia. Paintings of an ancient culture travelling to a new and unchartered territory: This is truly something to celebrate!

There’s also a gorgeous catalog with essays by arts centre manager Claire Eltringham and the Art Gallery of South Australia’s Associate Curator of Australian Paintings, Sculpture and Indigenous Art Nici Cumpston.  Click on the link below to have a look for yourself!

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4 Responses to Ancestral Modern in Seattle / Ninuku in New York

  1. Pingback: I wish I was there. | Australian Aboriginal Art: a reading group

  2. Lisa Stefanoff says:

    So exciting! Go Ninuku mob!

  3. Pingback: Aboriginal Art in America, Again (Summer 2012) | Aboriginal Art & Culture: an American eye

  4. JJ says:

    Amazing artwork that the whole world needs to see! Well done guys 🙂

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