'Ninjilki' (2008) by Sally Gabori Acrylic onlinen 198 x 101 cms
Posted by Jeremy Eccles | 25.05.11
Gallery: Newcastle Regional Art Gallery
Dates: 14.05.11 : 14.08.11
There are probably no other collectors in Australia who could get away with naming an exhibition 'Laverty 2' and expect instant recognition by viewers. But then Colin and Liz Laverty have the advantage of having had such a big impact with their first show 'Beyond Sacred' – also the title of a monumental book based on their collection of Aboriginal art – that the Newcastle Region Art Gallery found itself faced by demands from both its Foundation and its Society to do more and to buy more Aboriginal art.
Ironically, they've responded by revealing the creative duality of the Lavertys – both in the sense that the 80-artwork show is half and half indigenous and non-indigenous art, and in the sense that the differing tastes of Colin and Liz are allowed to appear.
So Colin's early enthusiasm for hard-edged abstractionists like Dick Watkins and Peter Booth – not to mention the little-known Newcastle artist William Rose, who is getting a special exhibition to himself currently at the Gallery – is recorded; while Liz put her fate into the hands of Robert Hannaford, a friend and developer of her artistic taste. Together the couple favour Tony Tuckson, Bill Robinson and Richard Larter.
But for those not in Newcastle for this exhibition, the news of note is the new edition of Beyond Sacred. Why, one wonders would they go to the expense of adding 50 pages and 15 artists to a definitive record of their collection? Why go from white cover to black? Is that symbolic in some way?
The answer in all three cases, mysteriously, seems to be Sally Gabori! The radical, highly-coloured Bentinck Island artist – whom some are beginning to find just a little repetitive after just six years of intense painting – is now the cover girl (aged 87 or so!), with nine extra artworks displayed, and a new chapter on her fascinating life by Dallas Gold – the dealer in Darwin who sold the Lavertys all their Gaboris. He's generous in recognising her early discovery in 2005 by Simon Turner at the Woolloongabba Art Gallery in Brisbane, and he's astute in hailing the way her “paint itself becomes another language” for a woman who can only actually speak to 6 other people in the world in her native Kaiadilt tongue.
But is Gold too generous in crediting Gabori with “the invention a new visual language” - for not all her work is quite as gloriously confident as Ninjikli (2008) pictured? This certainly fits with the over-arching Laverty thesis – supported by essays from such luminaries as the late Nick Waterlow, Howard Morphy and Judith Ryan – that the case is now proven for 'art' over ethnography as the main motivator of indigenous visual culture production. So this new edition is asking for its 77 new artworks to be judged on their aesthetics, not on their unknowable meanings.
Intriguingly, while I might have expected the Lavertys to have splashed out on the wildest of the new APY art from tiny, remote Anangu communities, with a follow-up of elegant invention from Buku Larrnggay artists in Yirrkala, East Arnhemland, a surprising proportion of their significant additions come from good ol' Papunya Tula. Top of the list for Colin is Nyilyari Tjapangati, who might be called the Leggo man. And it's his mastery of etching – not necessarily an easy switch for Aboriginal artists (just look at Kitty Kantilla's disappointing efforts) – that takes the eye. Joseph Jurra and the late Doreen Reid Nakamarra do very much the same.
Bidyadanga also gets multiple additions – Parlurn Harry Bullen and Lydia Balbal now sit beside the generous space allocated to Alma Webou and Daniel Walbidi to give this community almost 30 pages in the book. But is it right to position them in The Kimberley as captions do? In fact the Great Sandy Desert – from which they and their art originated – sweeps down to the sea where they live south of Broome. Not an upland in sight. And aren't mountains and rivers an inherent aspect of Kimberley art? Perhaps the Lavertys (and others) need to follow the lead of the National Museum in designating a Canning Stock Route mob who retain that link wherever they've ended up living?
Meanwhile, at the other end of the scale, artists like Anatjari Tjakamarra, Bulunbulun, Nyakal Dawson and Old Mick Gill have been disposed of. A little sad. I wonder whether their work looked a little too ethnographic in this aesthetic world?
Others I thought had gone – though it turned out they'd only had name change! Does one really have to think of Billy Thomas as Karntakarnta now? And Jackie Giles as Kurltjunyintja? I've already expressed disquiet over the glorious Emily's surname losing its K to Ngwarrey in some interfering orthographer's new styling. How will future generations find her in indices or on Google?
Could the problem possibly lie in the high turnover of white factors in this industry – each wanting to stamp their identity on an artist? One only has to look at the acknowledgments at the back of the Laverty book to realise how many titles have changed since publication and how many have had to be listed as “formerly of....”.
The artists themselves deserve more consistency.
But back to the Newcastle show, having now viewed it – and there are some marvellous juxtapositions in this imaginatively curated show. The most obvious are some superior Sally Gaboris alongside a striking Tony Tuckson and some textured Aida Tomescus. They really feed off each other. But, looking backwards from there, an early Ildiko Kovacs takes the eye beside some Paddy Bedfords to great effect. What a pity there isn't a Stumpy Brown to reflect on Kovacs later canvases.
Such visual tutoring does so much to underline the Laverty case for looking at all Australian art – Aboriginal or non-indigenous – through the same eyes; as the WA Art Gallery is in the process of doing. They're not buying it at the AGNSW, though for it has recently split Australian and Indigenous Art departments apart!
'Bush Plum' (2000) by Angelina George. Acrylic on linen 129 x 90 cms
'Willinkarra 1' (2009) by Nyilyari Tjapangati. Etching on paper 33 x 24.5 cms
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