Remembering Forward: Australian Aboriginal Paintings Since 1960, Ludwig Museum, Cologne, Germany


Ronnie Tjampitjinpa
Tingari Ceremonies at the Side of Pintjun, 1989
Acrylic on canvas
152 x 180 cm

November 20, 2010 – March 20, 2011

It is far more than living memory: it is a sensory, non-linear intertwining of past and future, of cause and effect, that distinguishes Australian Aboriginal painting. In Europe these unusual artworks are still largely unknown. The Museum Ludwig will devote attention to them in a large exhibition of approximately fifty paintings by nine outstanding artists of the past five decades.

Despite their origins in remote regions of Australia, these works are central contributions to contemporary art and expand our understanding of painting. By including a selection of artists from various regions—the Western and Central Desert, the Kimberley and Arnhem Land—the exhibition also acknowledges the diversity of Australia’s different Indigenous cultures.

These works by nine outstanding artists represent the creative interpenetration of tradition and modernity.

This exhibition places particular emphasis on the artists behind the works, whose individual styles and developments become clear. Their works are not understood as expressions of their cultural backgrounds; rather, they are the artistic presentation of the interpenetration of tradition and modernity. The artists have all chosen to paint stories based on their Dreamings, from the oral tradition of the time of creation. These creation myths describe, according to Aboriginal beliefs, how the ancestors formed the land, but at the same time they reach into the future. The artworks must thus be understood as a highly current involvement with this system of beliefs, not as the reprocessing of a cultural history. Together with modern materials such as acrylic paints and canvas, this has led to highly innovative visual representations and new developments of content as well.

The selection of artists makes it possible to experience the diversity of painters’ experimentation through several examples.

Artists like Emily Kame Kngwarreye and Dorothy Napangardi increasingly departed from the depiction of specific narratives and arrived at pictorial programmes that can be described as abstract, though they have not given up their relationships and references to the land. Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri and Tim Leura Tjapaltjarri pursued a different path in their somewhat earlier works, in which numerous different stories connected to a specific place are combined into a single image. This combination of multiple Dreamings was not a part of traditional sand painting. Turkey Tolson Tjupurrula, in contrast, varied one story many times: the straightening of spears. Thus he compresses numerous aspects into one complex visual metaphor: the story’s telling, the passing of time, the land, and conflicts over land rights. Artists from the Kimberley such as Rover Thomas, Queenie McKenzie and Paddy Bedford have combined the mythological content of their images with historical events associated with colonization. Some of the horrors brought on by the European settlement of Australia, such as massacres of the Indigenous population, become tangible in paintings.

Two collections of bark paintings not only present this fascinating medium, but also provide the historical context for exhibitions of Indigenous Australian art in Western art museums.

The collections of bark paintings from Arnhem Land assembled by artist and curator Tony Tuckson with patron Dr Stuart Scougall dates from the period around 1960. Their exhibition in the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, initiated debate on the appropriateness of exhibiting Indigenous art in art museums. Today, Remembering Forward still is located within the context of this debate. This collection of bark paintings is complemented by others collected by Karl Kupka almost simultaneously for the Museum der Kulturen (ethnographic museum) in Basel. Altogether, fourteen bark paintings by eleven (in some cases unknown) artists will be shown.

The exhibition will be accompanied by an extensive catalogue published by Paul Holberton Publishing.