Carrillo Gantner at home, pictured in front of Julie Dowling's 'The Gift' 1999, acrylic and gold on canvas, 120 x 100 cms

Posted by Jeremy Eccles | 09.09.13

Dates: 21.06.13 : 25.08.13
Location: 70 Welsford Street, Shepparton, Victoria

Carrillo and Ziyin Gantner are fortunate people in having a) taste and great enthusiasm to collect Indigenous art and b) enough money to do things like flying around remote Aboriginal communities in a private plane in order to see and appreciate artists on their home ground, and then buy those of their output that the couple liked. In case it's not apparent from their names, the Gantners are members of Melbourne's Myer clan – indeed Carrillo is Chair of the philanthropic Myer Foundation.

Formerly, though, he worked for his living – an early Drama Officer at the Australia Council, founder of Playbox Theatre in Melbourne, a notable King Lear on stage, and Chair of the Victorian Art Centre. He's also put himself out recently in lending a swathe of the Gantner collection to the Shepparton Art Museum near his farm in rural Victoria, organised cousin Rupert, Chair of the Australia Council, to open the event, and thrown in the services of his curator Jennifer Isaacs to contribute basic introductions to each of the collection's different Aboriginal art regions in a catalogue that offers a permanent record of the show.

In Shepparton, the reception was open-armed, with SAM Director and exhibition curator Kirsten Paisley writing: “The exhibition and collection not only opens the door to Aboriginal culture, it also opens the door to Australian history, speaking about European settlement, remote communities, the Stolen Generations, land rights and the copyright of images. From an education perspective, the collection will provide opportunities for Shepparton audiences to talk about local heritage, reconciliation and our own settlement history. We are particularly honoured to be working with the artists of (the local) Gallery Kaiela in the delivery of the exhibition’s cultural program, and to have their artwork exhibited at the front of SAM, as a wonderful entrance to this exhibition.”

Sadly, the exhibition ran only through June, July and August – when I received the catalogue.

But that's enough to glean a fascinating sub-text to the collection. For there have actually been two collections in Carrillo Gantner's life – the first whipped up with his uncle Bails in the 1990s to celebrate Myer founding grandfather, Sidney's centenary of arrival in Melbourne in 1999. Oddly, that 'Spirit Country' show was exhibited first in San Francisco where Sidney developed his merchandising skills during the 1920s. Later it would tour to Japan and China. But it ended up donated to the Melbourne Museum. Has it been seen since, I wonder?

The second collection is Carrillo and Ziyin's personal effort – put together over a much longer period. In fact, it all began when Jennifer Isaacs and Carrillo were colleagues at the Australia Council and she took him to a Yirawala bark show in a private house in 1972. There Gantner fell for a particularly sensitive kangaroo, which he still describes as appealing to him because the animal was “chewing sugar cane”. Isaacs description in the catalogue gives that the lie – revealing that the stick is in fact a very restrained version of “the great hollow didgeridoo that became a hollow log that booms out in the Wubarr ceremony”.

So the sub-text, which I think Gantner is deliberately trying to get across, is that you don't have to be right up on the secret/sacred or 'spiritual' meaning of an Aboriginal artwork – it can simply speak to you emotionally or visually, and that's quite enough reason to buy it. As he himself puts it, “I began to buy an occasional work that appealed to me in colour or form. Hopefully I can encourage others to walk through the door of increasing knowledge and appreciation of Aboriginal art,” and from there “to respect and reconciliation”.

Apart from the early Yirawalas, other personal 'fancies' are the works of the Namatjira family, and the West Australian portraiture of Julie Dowling, which has delighted him since a Melbourne Art Fair twenty years ago. A fascinating background note explains that Dowling is combining both of her ancestries in portraiture – for, on the Anglo-Irish side, she's descended from the early colonial artist Robert Dowling who cruelly portrayed Truganini and other Tasmanian Aborigines as scientific objects representing “the last of their race”.

So, do the Gantners have an eye for the Desert and the Kimberley as well? Well I can't fault his Emily Kngwarreye with the unlikely title, 'Old Man Emu Ceremony'. And there's a fascinating link from her to the Pintupi Tatali Nangala's 'Yam Roots' in that it was also Emily's favourite subject-matter. Hector Jandany's Warmun 'Table Top Hill' looks one of his finer works, and it's always good to see the Douanier Rousseau of Aboriginal art, Willie Gudupi well represented. Finally, a pair from Balgo – the husband and wife team of Wimmitji and Eubena reveal how that art community set out to show Country in brilliant colours more literally than tends to be the case today – as in the more 'designed' work of their daughter Lucy Yukenbarri, an on-going star.

URL: Shepparton Art Museum

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'Kangaroo' ('Untitiled' 1972) by Yirawala, ochres on bark - with Wubarr didgeridoo (or sugar cane)


'Loading Camels' 2006 by Irene Mbitjana Entata, an artist from Hermannsburg. Acrylic on linen 90 x 120 cms. Photograph: Andrew Curtis


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