Influential Emily

Influential Emily

A delightful photograph of the newly 'influential' Emily Kngwarreye, taken by Christopher Hodges of Utopia Art Sydney

Jeremy Eccles | 18.12.19

Author: Jeremy Eccles
News source: Research

It's the silly season when TV is supposed to be on endless repeat and politicians go home and leave us alone for a while. However, this year the combination of Brexit, Trump and Australia's inextinguishable fires seems to have changed that. Nevertheless, everyone is drawing up lists of the great and good from 2019.

And what a delight to discover that our very own Emily Kame Kngwarreye made the list of's 'The 20 Most Influential Artists of 2019' along with more expected names such as the 2019 UK's Turner Prize winners, the campaigning Nan Goldin, Olafur Eliasson (now showing in Brisbane), Arthur Jafa, who took home the Golden Lion at the Venice Biennale and is coming to next year's Sydney Biennale, Japan's teamLab, Jeff Koons, KAWS, the new Jeff Koons (aka Brian Donnelly), and, inevitably, Yayoi Kusama.

The initial justification for noting an artist who died in 1996 and, in Artsy's words, “inspiring us from the grave”, was her presence in 'Desert Painters of Australia', the major non-selling exhibition of Aboriginal artwork at the Gagosian Gallery in New York and California, which, Artsy concluded, “brought renewed attention to phenomenal abstract paintings from Indigenous Australian communities. Emily Kame Kngwarreye may be the most lauded of these painters. Throughout her life (ca. 1910–1996), Kngwarreye filled her vibrant canvases with dots, swirls and tangled lines that alternately evoke organic shapes, topographic maps, and the night sky”(!).

After this selection, Sotheby’s held its first Aboriginal art sale in New York, which Artsy decided, “conveyed confidence in Americans’ interest in the genre (the auction house previously held sales in London and Sydney)”. Two Kngwarreye canvases were top lots: 'Untitled' (1990), selling for US$350,000 and the three-metre 'Summer Celebration' (1991), which rose to US$596,000 (A$875.000).

“A number of high-profile collectors, including Steve Martin and Dennis and Debra Scholl, have helped to build awareness of Kngwarreye and her cohort through travelling exhibitions that make their works accessible to the public nationwide”.

Hurrah for Artsy's perceptive notice of great art when it's put under their Stateside nose!

Meanwhile, the rival Art Review's 'Power 100' – do we have power in Australian art?? - ran through a few of the same names – Goldin, Gagosian, Eliasson and Jafa – but also discovered Indigenous artist and Biennale of Sydney Director Brook Andrew for a debut appearance on their annual list.

While we know of his local activities, Art Review went around the world: “Andrew’s year was a story of three biennials. The first was Kochi-Muziris, where he exhibited a trademark installation of paintings, collaged found photographs and sculpture reflecting on postcolonial identity and the long hangover of imperialism; the second was the Honolulu Biennial, which opened in March; the third has yet to happen, for Andrew will curate next year’s Biennale of Sydney, the first artist and first Indigenous person to do so. Taking the title 'NIRIN', which means ‘edge’ in Wiradjuri the language of his mother’s people, it will feature 98 artists, researchers and activists from 47 countries spread out across six venues in the city and show, he says, “how all those edges come together to make a centre”. In doing so he – and the Biennale's organisers – hope he can revitalise an institution whose recent editions have been dogged by protest”.

I wonder whether that's Art Review's view or Brook Andrew's? BTW - the soon-to-be Dr Brook Andrews, though NOT a PhD as everyone assumes. My old alma mater, Oxford University awards only D Phils!

Also discovered to be powerful were Liz-Ann Macgregor of Sydney's Museum of Contemporary Art and Suhanya Raffel, formerly of the Queensland and Sydney galleries, but now running Hong Kong's M+ Museum. It would seem you have to leave Oz to be powerful – Macgregor's entry stresses her international presidency of the museums organisation, CIMAM, while also attracting more than a million visitors annually to the MCA.

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Influential Emily

The 81st most Powerful art figure in the world - Brook Andrew - announcing his Biennale of Sydney for next year.


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