There’s a lovely review of the Hood Museum’s Crossing Cultures exhibition online now in Art in America, “New Art Push at Dartmouth with Hood’s Aboriginal Show.” Carol Strickland was on hand for the opening ceremonies two weeks ago and absorbed a great deal of information as well as taking obvious delight in what she was seeing.
Fleece-clad hikers on the Appalachian Trail munch beef jerky as they pass smack-dab through the center of rural Hanover, New Hampshire, the home of Dartmouth College. With the opening of the $48-million Black Family Visual Arts Center on Oct. 15, the 50th-anniversary season of the Hopkins Center for the Performing Arts, and the newly declared Year of the Arts, the university hopes to attract culture tourists too. What really puts the campus on the map for those seeking The Next Big Thing in art is an exhibition at the Hood Museum of Art.
Strickland provides cultural background for the exhibition, starting at Papunya and essaying out to the Kimberley before paying special attention to the works of artists from metropolitan Australia and connecting the legacies of colonization amongst the varied works on display. As for the potential impact of Aboriginal art in the wider world where Art in America is read, she defers the assessment to Director Michael Taylor and curator Stephen Gilchrist.
Moving from purely abstract dot paintings to stylized representations of creatures like fish or kangaroos to works that are as contemporary in style and feel as any seen in art fairs and biennales, these works are far from purely decorative. They transmit content and meaning-both celebratory and critical. “There’s certainly anger,” admits Hood Museum director Michael Taylor, “but also catharsis at letting it out. Art is a way of healing.”
“That’s one of the great revelations” of Aboriginal art, Taylor adds. “You look at a ravishingly beautiful abstract painting and then realize there’s a specific cultural reference…a political message and also a message of survival, saying, ‘They can take away our children and our belief systems, but we’re going to maintain our own identity’.”
Taylor finds the art so moving, transformative, and universal that he believes it will no longer be confined to ethnographic institutions as artifacts rather than shown as fine art in museums. One aim of the exhibition is to increase its visibility on the international stage, which Gilchrist says is “less about cultural preservation than cultural reactivation.”