In mid-September Cooee Art will partner with Booker-Lowe Gallery, to showcase masterworks as well as paintings by today’s “art stars.”
Today’s burgeoning Australian Indigenous art movement is diverse and full of visual surprises. Based on clan patterns, ancient iconography, and mythological stories passed on over 60,000 years, each tribe has its own style and each artist’s work is individually identifiable. Its origins lie in cave painting, rock engravings, ephemeral ceremonial ground design and body art. Its inspiration is custodianship of country, stories of creation, and the continuity of ceremonial and cultural life beyond the current generation.
The spread of the painting movement across Indigenous Australia during the past 60 years has been like a slowly moving fire through the Spinifex. Each place it has touched went on to ignite those before it. Long after interest in some of these artists and styles has waned, the art of the movement’s most important painters blazes on – artists such as Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri, Emily Kame Kngwarreye and Maggie Napangardi Watson who are represented in this exhibition.
In the 1950s Arnhem Land bark artists were the first to gain the public’s attention. As demand grew throughout the 1960s, small craft enterprises sprang up around the country and interest grew overseas for the first time. In 1970, a mural painted on a school wall sparked a painting revolution that resonated across the entire continent an continues to this day. By 1980, painting on canvas was spreading across the Central, Tanami, and Western Deserts. The first art boards were created in the far north of Western Australia, carried on the shoulders of dancers in ceremonies intended to revive Kimberley culture. Over the following decade, painting spread throughout Australia’s most remote desert regions – amongst the Warlpiri artists at Yuendumu, the Kukatja at Balgo Hills and the Eastern Anmatjerre artists at Utopia. Here, there seemed to be an emphasis on luminosity, and a freer use of line, colour and expression. Then, just as the heat turned once more toward Arnhem Land, which experienced a new wave of innovation post 2000, artists living in the remote APY lands* situated in South and West Australia began creating bold, fluid works full of vibratory colour and energy.
Where did all the energy and this passion to create art come from? I believe it was born of a cultural and historical imperative. Tribal custodians facing the loss of language, custom and culture desperately sought to tell their story, pass it on to their young, and assert their rights over land.
In time, the new caretakers of the visual expression of this priceless cultural legacy became, almost by default, institutions, museums and passionate private collectors in Australia, Europe and the Americas. Beginning with the Smithsonian Institution’s Australian American Scientific Expedition to Arnhem Land in 1948, US collectors have been drawn to Aboriginal art. Those of distinction included the university professor Edward Ruhe, who began collecting Aboriginal art in 1965, the media magnate John Kluge, and philanthropist Donald Kahn who became active in the late 1980s after attending the Dreamings exhibition at the Asia Society in New York. By the 1990s the flame was being carried by Richard Kelton, Margaret Levi and Robert Kaplan, Harvey Wagner and Will Owen, an Barbara and John Wilkerson, who metaphorically passed it on to contemporary art collectors Debra and Dennis Scholl. Today, the torch is carried by esteemed actor, writer and comedian Steve Martin and Swiss art patron and philanthropist Berenger Primat whose business and social interests extend into North America. It is obvious that these, and hundreds of other US collectors over the past 40 years, have been deeply moved by the work of remote Australian artists. With an experienced and sensitive eye, they have deliberately sought out many of the finest examples works ever painted. More than 100 magnificent works from Primat’s Foundation Opal collection are represented in the exhibition Mapa Wiya at the Menil Collection, Houston, during 2019-2020. Martin and Primat are the latest amongst a distinguished group of private European and US collectors who are driving the expanding interest of Australian Indigenous art in North America.
To coincide with the exhibition Mapa Wiya (Your Map’s Not Needed): Australian Aboriginal Art from the Fondation Opale at the Menil Collection, Cooee’s Directors Adrian Newstead and Mirri Leven are delighted to present the exhibition Australian Indigenous Art: Beyond Time in collaboration with Houston’s Booker Lowe Gallery, the longest running Aboriginal art gallery in the Americas. The exhibition will open on September 14th, 2019 and continue through to December 14th, 2019.
Cooee Art is Australia’s oldest Indigenous fine art gallery. Since it was established in 1981, its founder Adrian Newstead OAM has staged more than 400 Indigenous art exhibitions in Australia and overseas, involving individual Indigenous artists and community groups while representing many of the movement’s most seminal artists.
Today, Indigenous art collectors are to be found all over the world sharing their passion with others – from Madrid to Rome, Miami to Seattle, and all across Australia. They, like Berenger Primat, understand that, at a time when many of the world’s unique indigenous cultures are threatened by pressures on the natural world, these paintings have profound meaning and are especially significant.
They attest to the creative genius of a tradition that is 60,000 years old. A tradition that in spite of the rapid changes brought during the 20th and 21st centuries, continues to endure and enlighten those who have eyes to see and hearts to be moved by their beauty, ancient narrative, and eternal truths.
* Home to A?angu, Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara people
Beyond Time also includes works by leading and emerging artists who have continued – and expanded – the original vision, such as
Judy Watson Napangardi, Genevieve Kemarr Loy, and Lydia Balbal.
with special guest
Adrian Newstead OAM
Founding Director, Coo-ee Gallery
4 – 6 pm
Saturday, September 14th
4623 Feagan Street
Houston, TX 77007