Exhibitions Fairs Collectors USA

Collectors turn to Aboriginal art

The Australian curator Henry Skerritt has transformed Debra and Dennis Scholl’s home to mix their contemporary art with indigenous abstract painting

Tommy Mitchell’s Wakalpuka

An exploration of contemporary Aboriginal art comprises Debra and Dennis Scholl’s exhibition this year for Art Basel Miami Beach. The Australian curator Henry Skerritt has transformed the couple’s home to mix their contemporary art collection with their new interest in indigenous abstract painting.

Skerritt, who has devoted equal space to both, says that the juxtapositions throughout the interior of the couple’s South Beach home—such as a large work by the Peruvian artist William Cordova riffing against a pair of elegant pieces by the late Prince of Wales (Midpul) and Lily Kelly Napangard—are employed to help visitors recognise the inherent contemporaneity of the works of art being produced in indigenous Australia.

“These are not ‘primitive’ or ‘ethnographic’ objects,” Skerritt says. “They are works of art that address the most pressing question of our time: how do we conceive the unity of the planet and the diversity of worlds it contains?”

Sensory perception

Seeking a visual vocabulary specific to their culture, the Aboriginal paintings in the show are characterised by abstract forms and unique symbolism. Painters such as Paddy Bedford from East Kimberley use a thick application of natural ochres in broad, minimalist sections of modulating colour. Dots on the outlines of shapes work like musical notes, accentuating the liminal spaces to create a warm and vital world view, blending the historical traditions and contemporary realities of indigenous life.

“All of these works are about the visualisation of different modes of sensory perception; they are about redefining the isolation with which we consider our senses. This, again, comes down to how we see, shape and imagine the world in which we live,” Skerritt says. “These artists are attempting, albeit in very different ways, to reconnect art to the sensory world of the present.” 

The exhibition promises to engage visitors by giving them an opportunity to experience the energy and inventiveness of an art form that Skerritt says is still mysterious to many.

“Aboriginal art is produced in some of the most remote parts of the planet, in places with little access to internet or telecommunications, and yet the artists are producing works that touch on the most relevant issues in contemporary art,” he says. “Most of the works in the show are produced by elderly men and women deeply rooted in ancient cosmologies, but they are able to distil this knowledge into profoundly moving visual statements.”

“No Boundaries”; by appointment only. The exhibition is due to open at the Nevada Museum of Art in February 2015 and will tour to four other US museums

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