Jan 25, 2019

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA (January 24, 2019) – On February 21-23, the Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection of UVA will present a major symposium investigating the role of Indigenous Australian art in the United States, its growth over the past thirty years and its position in contemporary art discourse. The spotlight will be on renowned Kuninjku artist Balang John Mawurndjul, one of the most important and celebrated artists in Australia today, who will talk about his life’s work. The Beyond Dreamings symposium is attracting lovers of Indigenous art from around the country.

 Balang John Mawurndjul in Maningrida, Arnhem Land, Australia, 2018. Photo by Rhett Hammerton.
Balang John Mawurndjul in Maningrida, Arnhem Land, Australia, 2018. Photo by Rhett Hammerton.

Thirty years ago, in 1988, an exhibition titled Dreamings: The Art of Aboriginal Australia premiered at the Asia Society Galleries in New York, catapulting Aboriginal art onto the world stage. Dreamings was the first major introduction of Aboriginal art to American audiences and represented a major turning point in its international reception. Anthropologist Fred Myers, who will speak at the symposium, describes it as the moment when “Aboriginal art emphatically became ‘fine art.’” It was this exhibition that led individuals such as John W. Kluge to collect Aboriginal art. It also signaled a radical shift in the ways Indigenous artists and communities were represented in the modern museum.

Now, Kluge-Ruhe is bringing leaders in the field of Aboriginal Australian art and Indigenous art globally — from artists and curators to anthropologists and art historians — to celebrate the Dreamings exhibition, examine its legacies and consider the future of contemporary Indigenous Australian art.

Bark painter and sculptor Balang John Mawurndjul was recently described by Washington Post art critic Sebastian Smee as “the greatest Aboriginal artist unknown in America.” Smee explained that “Mawurndjul has produced a body of work so sophisticated, so spellbinding and so beautiful that it has earned him accolades not only in Australia… but also across Europe.” One of Mawurndjul’s early bark paintings was included in the Dreamings exhibition and, having become one of Australia’s leading artists, he was the focus of a highly acclaimed retrospective exhibition I am the Old and the Newat the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney and the Art Gallery of South Australia in Adelaide in 2018. Linguist and anthropologist Murray Garde, will accompany Mawurndjul and translate for him.

Indigenous curator Djon Mundine (Bandjalung), who organized the iconic Aboriginal Memorial at the National Gallery of Australia, will provide the keynote address in conversation with Kluge-Ruhe director Margo Smith on Thursday evening. A panel on Friday morning features members of the curatorial team for the Dreamings exhibition, Peter Sutton (University of Adelaide), Chris Anderson and Françoise Dussart (University of Connecticut), moderated by John Carty, Head of Humanities at the South Australian Museum, which has the largest collection of Aboriginal art in the world. Fred Myers (New York University), who developed and participated in the programs associated withDreamings, will speak on the reception of Aboriginal art in America. On Friday afternoon art historian Terry Smith (University of Pittsburgh) and Maia Nuku (Associate Curator of Oceanic Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art) will speak about the influence of Indigenous Australian art on contemporary art history and theory and the art of Oceania in global art world. To conclude the program, Kluge-Ruhe curator Henry F. Skerritt will moderate a discussion with the speakers.

In the evening Kluge-Ruhe will host a reception for symposium speakers and attendees. Kluge-Ruhe’s exhibition, Beyond Dreamings: The Rise of Indigenous Australian Art in the United States, was curated by nine graduate students at UVA who took a class with Skerritt in the spring of 2018. It examines many of the themes that will discussed during the symposium.

As the only museum dedicated to Indigenous Australian art in the United States, Kluge-Ruhe’s reputation in Australia is well established and the expertise of its staff is highly respected. The museum successfully brings Australia’s top artists to Charlottesville for residencies and exhibitions each year. But this event is unprecedented as it will bring so many experts together at same time, creating what will likely be the most interesting conversation about art to be experienced this year.

Sponsors of the Beyond Dreamings symposium include the Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection, the Institute for Global Humanities and Cultures, the Embassy of Australia and Maningrida Art and Culture.

The schedule for the symposium is as follows. Click here to visit the event website.  Click here to register to attend.

Thursday, February 21, Harrison Small Auditorium

5:00 pm: Keynote, Aboriginal Art over the Last 30 Years with Indigenous Curator Djon Mundine and Margo Smith

Friday, February 22, Harrison Small Auditorium

9:30 am: Coffee and refreshments

10:00 am – 12:00 pm: When Aboriginal Art Became Fine Art, with Chris Anderson, John Carty, Françoise Dussart, Fred Myers and Peter Sutton.

12:00 pm: Lunch buffet

1:00 pm: Artist Balang John Mawurndjul discusses his work with Murray Garde

2:00 pm: Indigenous Australian Art in Contemporary Art Discourse, with Maia Nuku, Henry F. Skerritt and Terry Smith.

5:30 – 7:00 pm: Reception at the Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection of UVA (note: this event is in a different location, a 20 minute drive from Harrison Small Auditorium)

Saturday, February 23, Kluge-Ruhe Collection

10:30 am: Gallery Talks. UVA graduate student curators and the symposium speakers at the Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection of UVA (note: this event is in a different location, a 20 minute drive from Harrison Small Auditorium)

Photo: Shorty Lungkarta Tjungurrayi, “Pattern in Sand,” 1980, acrylic on composition board. Gift of Maria T. Kluge, 2012. © estate of the artist licensed by Aboriginal Artists Agency Ltd