Country v. City in Aboriginal Art

The Australian has a dense and detailed report on the judging for the 26th National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award (say that three times fast) which was won by a University of Sydney art theory professor named Dawn Mellor. But the competition was very stiff and the analysis reveals something of the sophistication of the professional studio system that exists in aboriginal art as well as the strong family traditions. Here, take a look:

Of course, Papunya Tula is a blue-chip stock in today’s troubled art market, and its refined “house” look appeals to collectors and curators. Its success testifies to a professional studio system increasingly well calibrated to the taste and temper of thetimes. In bark painting too, the task of the two judges was straightforward. Elizabeth Ann Macgregor, from Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art, and Carly Lane, from the Art Gallery of West Australia, opted for finesse. The winning bark, a small, jewel-like piece by Rerrkirrwanga Munungurr, is the most perfect work in the show. The artist, from the Yolngu cultural bloc of northeast Arnhem Land, depicted the ceremonial designs of her husband’s Gumatj clan; and on the very weekend of the NATSIAA opening, she was travelling from her remote homeland of Wandawuy to a nearby settlement, where that same design was to be painted on her son’s chest during a circumcision ceremony. Rerrkirrwanga is the daughter of the famous artist Djutadjuta Munungurr, who won the award 12 years ago: again, the pattern is of highly refined, delicate art-making, enmeshed in tradition, and handed down along familial lines.

Evolution of a Landscape (The Australian)