Desert Painters of Australia
Works from the Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection of the University of Virginia and the Collection of Steve Martin and Anne Stringfield.
Gagosian is pleased to present a special exhibition of contemporary Indigenous Australian painting from two significant American collections. Spanning three generations, the exhibition includes works by leading painters from the Central and Western Desert regions.
Indigenous people have lived in the remote Australian deserts for many thousands of years. In the late 1960s, the Australian government moved several communities from the Western Desert region—primarily Pintupi, Luritja, Warlpiri, and Arrernte peoples—to the Papunya settlement, about 150 miles south of Alice Springs in the Northern Territory. This forced displacement inadvertently created a new hub for Indigenous Australian art where members of the community were encouraged to paint first murals, then works on canvas, using the patterns of sand art and ceremonial body decoration. This initiative set in motion the visual transposition of ancient stories and traditions into paint on canvas, giving the Papunya Tula artists an opportunity to reexamine the imagery and present their culture to outsiders through transcendental visual codes. Informed by a lifetime of learning, these paintings thus represent an invaluable archive of Indigenous knowledge.
Many of the works in this exhibition, made during the last twenty years, reveal the ways in which subsequent generations of Indigenous Australian artists have responded to their progenitors, and attest to the increasingly prominent role of women artists among them. While the first Western Desert paintings directly depicted signifying symbols and ideograms, the Papunya Tula artists later sought to obfuscate overt references, dotting and over-dotting as a means of protecting sacred designs. This strategy of simultaneous exposition and concealment yielded unparalleled visual feats, as each artist presented a continuum between states of waking and dreaming, ephemerality and permanence, representation and direct experience.