Emily Kame Kngwarreye Eastern Anmatyerr c.1910-1996 Untitled 1995 synthetic polymer paint on canvas 86 x 56 cm Gift of Rodney Gooch (The Rodney Gooch Collection) Riddoch Art Gallery 1998.3.107
Posted by Jeremy Eccles | 26.11.08
Gallery: Flinders University Art Museum
Dates: 04.10.08 : 08.02.09
Location: Riddoch Gallery, Mt Gambier, SA
Of the key (white) facilitators of the Aboriginal art movement, only Geoffrey Bardon has ensured his own immortality via assiduous publication. And his reputation is based on just 12 months effort between the school wall painting at Papunya and his departure from the Desert.
Where are the books, films and other tributes to Dorothy Bennett, Peter Fannin and Dick Kimber? Who even knows who got the art going at Yuendemu and Balgo?
One man, though, did ensure that he'd never be written out of the record at Utopia – even though the AGNSW's essay on the Central Desert community in One Sun, One Moon resolutely fails to mention his name! Rodney Gooch – Ronnie Koosher to Kathleen Petyarre – left 600 artworks when he died so young in 2002 to institutions in his home state of South Australia. And now Flinders University Art Museum and the Riddoch Gallery at Mt Gambier have combined to honour him with an exhibition and catalogue entitled 'Gooch's Utopia'.
And you thought it was Emily Kngwarreye's Utopia, or maybe Gloria Petyarre's?
What emerges is that Gooch took a fading batik enterprise involving only women, and through what his old boss Phillip Batty calls his “interventionism”, refreshed the batik, brought canvas in when batik was dismissed as mere craft, guided artists of both genders on the colours, media and subject-matters that appealed to the market, found sponsors for his artists in Robert Holmes a Court and the NGA's James Mollison (who insisted in 1988 that Emily was an abstract expressionist), and was generally the only art adviser who has ever successfully functioned across the variegated 18/20 community groups that live on the old Chalmers cattle station called Utopia.
And it was all an accidental spin-off from Gooch's official job recording and promoting Aboriginal rock music for the Central Australian Aboriginal Media Association, CAAMA.
Fascinatingly, the politically-incorrect catalogue articles (and education kit) linking the art to the marketplace match another new publication – Vivien Johnson's 'Lives of the Papunya Tula Artists' – in discarding the well-honed 'spirituality' myth as the only-beggetting factor in the artists putting acrylic paint on canvas.
Check it out at:
The 50 or so artworks on show (only briefly now at the Flinders University Gallery on North Terrace in Adelaide; but all summer long in Mt Gambier) are not the best that Utopia created between 1987 and 2002 – and include an intriguing work by Gooch himself. But Gooch's connectedness to the artists means there's a sense of the special about each piece; one might almost read into many a dedication by the artist to the collector. Katy Kemarre's 'Fighting the Bluecoats' is an extraordinary evocation of the Coniston massacre – not a subject normally associated with Utopia art; and two of Emily's works (one illustrated) are tiny beside the 8 metre monster Yam on show at the National Museum in Canberra currently. But they're gems.
And they – and this tribute to Rodney Gooch - should tour beyond SA.