The Last Great Art Movement of the 20th Century

TMAI got buzzed and felled by a mean (and I mean mean) intestinal flu bug this week, so I’m lying low on all fronts.  Just two brief topics to note this week:

Robert Hughes’s assessment that Aboriginal art is the last great art movement of the 20th century is probably the single most repeated quotation ever made on the subject.  But I can’t track down a citation to its original appearance.  Does anyone know when and where Hughes made this remark?  Book, newspaper, television?  A citation would be greatly appreciated.


We’re off to Toledo, Ohio this week for the opening of Crossing Cultures at the Toledo Museum of Art (TMA) on April 12.  Museum Director Brian Kennedy, formerly of the National Gallery of Australia and the Hood Museum of Art at Dartmouth College, has put his considerable talents and energy into presenting and promoting the first exhibition of Aboriginal Australian art to appear in the US Midwest since the Dreamings exhibition came to Chicago in 1989.


Among the opening weekend activities planned is a panel discussion moderated by Kennedy on the afternoon of April 11 (3-5 PM CDT).  I’ll be taking part along with Crossing Cultures‘ curator, Stephen Gilchrist, Curator of Aboriginal Australian Art at the Hood Museum, and Margo Smith, Director and Curator of the Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection at the University of Virginia.  According to a TMA press release, “For those unable to be in Toledo, a live webcast will be provided on Knowledge Stream, an online archive of free, searchable video-on-demand and multimedia content, by public television station WGTE-TV, Channel 30. The webcast will be available at”

By coincidence, the Toledo Zoo had been planning a “Wild Walkabout” summer exhibition of Australian wildlife, opening on May 24.  The Toledo Blade carried a report in its edition for Saturday, April 6, on the arrival from Darwin of a 17-foot saltwater crocodile.  Kennedy and TMA have been coordinating publicity for the summer events, and the Blade story tells how the Museum reached out through Gilchrist to Will Stubbs at Yirrkala to consult with Gumatj clan leaders.  As a result, the saltie at the Toledo Zoo has been named, appropriately, Baru.

Thinking about Robert Hughes and Crossing Cultures at the same time, I’ve come to realize that one of the brilliant curatorial decisions that Stephen Gilchrist made in selecting works for Crossing Cultures was to focus heavily on paintings, sculptures and photographs that were made in the twenty-first century.  While there’s a significant (in terms of tradition) selection of earlier pieces, especially from Arnhem Land, the brilliance of the show in many ways reflects the continuing vitality and innovation of the movement and the culture it expresses.  With that thought in mind, here’s a brief promotional video featuring Brian Kennedy and Stephen Gilchrist in conversation at the Toledo Museum of Art.

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3 Responses to The Last Great Art Movement of the 20th Century

  1. Jane Raffan says:

    Hi Will,
    Robert Hughes’ comment has attained myth status, but it was quoted by a fellow NY Times journo, so she may be your best bet for a direct lead:
    Best regards, Jane

  2. Hello Will

    I too have previously referred to this alleged comment by Robert Hughes but have not been able to locate the original reference. It could be in a 1988 article by Hughes in Time Magazine but I have not yet purchased the online access to the the article needed to check. I am starting to think that the quote may have the status of an urban myth!

    Martin Wardrop

  3. fmark says:

    Hi Martin,

    If you are referring to his review of the Asia Society exhibition in Time Magazine, I don’t believe it contains this quotation (but I will have to double check my photocopy!).



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