All posts in “Ancestral Modern”

Object of the Week: Wilkinkarra

The year 2016 wasn’t all bad, and in fact it proved a remarkable year for the growth of SAM’s permanent collection. Just in the area of paintings, the museum acquired Robert Colescott’s colorful Les Demoiselles d’Alabama: Vestidas, on view on the third floor at the top of the elevators; the beautiful Nicolas Colombel Cupid and Psyche now installed in the large European art gallery on the fourth floor; and quite a few other cool things. The largest painting SAM acquired, and among the most visually striking, is Wilkinkarra, a blast of spotted color spread over a 6-by-10-foot canvas, from Australian Aboriginal woman artist Mitjili Napanangka Gibson.

Wilkinkarra came to SAM from the distinguished collection of Margaret Levi and Robert Kaplan, out of which a whole survey of Australian Aboriginal art was culled. Ancestral Modern: Australian Aboriginal Art came to SAM in 2012 and showcased more than 100 artworks that, for many of us, provided an introduction to the history and thriving culture of Australian Aboriginal painting.

When encountering something new, we often try to connect it to something we already know and understand. This is natural because our brains are wired to make sense of new experiences and stimuli by comparing them to ones that already exist in our mental databank. Looking at Wilkinkarra, I was struck by how the aesthetic is distinctively “modern.” Countless bright pops of bold color—pinks, purples, blues, yellows, and oranges—emerge in organic patterns, encircled in heavy black outlines. The dotting approach echoes pointillist painting in the late 20th century, and we could also picture this piece fitting cleanly into newer schools of abstract art.

Only this is not an abstraction, but a representation of a specific landscape, pictured from a bird’s-eye view, and created within a unique culture and school of art-making. While we might see immediate, purely visual connections to the Modern art that we already know, there are still more meaningful connections to be made.

In the exhibition catalogue for Ancestral Modern, Lisa Graziose Corrin finds one of those connections in the idea of journeying. First, note that the features of the land itself, and the idea of moving through the land, have special meaning in Aboriginal culture: “Mitjili Napanangka Gibson’s Wilkinkarra refers to a ritual walkabout in her homeland. For Aboriginal artists, travel through the landscape is spiritual, something performed as well as painted. The ritual walkabout and the represented walkabout are equally significant mappings of sacred cultural experience. Both ensure the continuation of Aboriginal cultural memory that is deeply embedded in the topography of ceremonial places.”¹

Second, consider Corrin’s idea that “At one level or another, contemporary culture is a traveling culture.” The city of Seattle plays host to crowds of neo-nomads. The actions of moving, traveling, journeying, and migrating affect many of us in profound ways, shaping how we understand ourselves and how we relate to the people and places we encounter. Global Modern and contemporary art reflects these ideas. At SAM we see it in works like Jacob Lawrence’s Migration Series, and in William Kentridge’s Shadow Procession. Lawrence, Kentridge, and now Gibson remind us that sharing about where we go, and what we go through, is a very human thing to do.

–Jeffrey Carlson, SAM Collections Coordinator

¹ Lisa Graziose Corrin, “Staging Australian Aboriginal Art,” Ancestral Modern: Australian Aboriginal Art, exhibition catalogue, Seattle: Seattle Art Museum, in association with Yale University Press, 2012; 46.
Image: Wilkinkarra, 2007, Mitjili Napanangka Gibson (Australian Aboriginal, Warlpiri people, Western Desert, Northern Territory, born ca. 1940), synthetic polymer paint on canvas, 78 3/4 x 120 1/16 in. Seattle Art Museum, Gift of Margaret Levi and Robert Kaplan, 2016.25.

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SAMart: Time to wave goodbye to the Mountain Devil Lizard

Pointillism is taken to new levels by Kathleen Petyarr who paints with meticulous care using a satay stick. Her wavy X across the middle of the painting marks the path of the Mountain Devil Lizard. What is recorded here is the lizard’s idiosyncratic habit of meandering, swerving around obstacles, never following a straight path. The dots that appear in dense clusters simultaneously convey the spotted pattern of the lizard’s skin, the seeds or small ants she eats, and the sandstorms she passes through. Like many of the paintings in Ancestral Modern, this work maps multiple levels of existence.

Called “a show that truly does take you into another world,” by the Seattle Times’ Michael Upchurch, Ancestral Modern presents more than 100 works of breathtaking beauty, eye-popping visual complexity, and dizzyingly deep meaning. This exhibition runs through this Sunday, 2 September.

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SAMblog: A father’s story

This canvas depicts a vision of two giant snakes whose muscular bodies circle around a site known as Pukarra. The snakes are a father and son who are facing an epic struggle. To this day, people approach the rockhole at Pukarra with great care to make sure these two powerful snakes are settled. Fires and smoke, along with respectful observances, are required before accessing the water held there.

The artists, seventeen senior men from the Spinifex community of Western Australia, collaborated on this commissioned painting. Together they depicted rockholes, soaks, natural dams, sandhills, and the dense stories that connect them.

Wati Kutjara (Two Men Story), 2003, Spinifex Men’s Collaborative (Ned Grant, born 1942; Kali Davis, dates unknown; Ian Rictor, born ca. 1962; Lawrence Pennington, dates unknown; Frank Davis, dates unknown; Fred Grant, born 1941; Gerome Anderson, 1940–2011; Wilbur Brooks, dates unknown; Simon Hogan, born 1930; Mark Anderson, born 1933; Roy Underwood, born 1937; Walter Hansen, dates unknown; Loren Pennington, dates unknown; Cyril Brown, dates unknown; Alan Jamieson, dates unknown; Lennard Walker, born 1949; Byron Brooks, born 1955), Australian Aboriginal, Pitjantjatjara people, Tjuntjuntjara, Southwestern Deserts, Western Australia, synthetic polymer paint on canvas, 82 11/16 x 74 13/16 in., Promised gift of Margaret Levi and Robert Kaplan, in honor of the 75th Anniversary of the Seattle Art Museum. Currently on view in Ancestral Modern: Australian Aboriginal Art from the Kaplan & Levi Collection, special exhibition galleries, fourth floor, SAM downtown.
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Gearing up for Remix!

Hey there! It’s Natalie Dupille, SAM’s newest PR intern. I’m excited to be working here, and even more excited for tomorrow—and not just because June 1 is my 21st birthday. Tomorrow is Remix, SAM’s hippest quarterly event, and it promises an evening jam-packed with performances, talks, dancing, DJs, and more.

I’m totally intrigued by Seattle band Midday Veil, who will be fusing mesmerizing, hypnotic rock meditations and vibrant projections to grace us with unique multimedia performances at 9:00 and 10:45 pm in the South Hall. On top of that, there’s the collaborative music and art installation by SAM and Olson Kundig Architects, inspired by the Theaster Gates exhibition, which runs through July 1. Join us in the Chase Open Studio, where, in addition to listening stations and hands-on activities, DJ Riz presents the Stairway to Vinyl Listening Party, where he’ll spinning LPs from the Record Store’s robust collection of records throughout the evening.

Remix is also a great opportunity to check out SAM’s newest exhibit, Ancestral Modern, an exuberant exhibition of contemporary art from one of the world’s oldest living cultures that includes more than 100 artworks created by Australian Aboriginal artists in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Cellist Paul Rucker will be creating “Sonic Interpretations” live in Ancestral Modern at 9:15 and 10:30 pm tomorrow, a surefire way to experience an already rousing exhibition.

Having never before attended Remix, I am thrilled to not only be able to attend, but also to be a part of this exciting event. Looking forward to all that and more, hopefully my enthusiasm is contagious, and I will see you there!

PS- The first 50 people in rainbows get in for free. Rock that ROYGBIV!

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SAMart: A new exhibition, a new way of seeing the world

An exuberant visual language has sprung out of Aboriginal artists across the continent of Australia. While this language occasionally looks extremely modern, it depicts unexpected subjects. Epics that involve shape shifting ancestors and short stories devoted to the flora and fauna of their country are given visual form. A sudden abundance of art production since the 1970s has been described as a renaissance of the world’s oldest living culture.

Six women sat together to paint this vision of their country, shaped by Luurnpa (the Kingfisher) who created features of the landscape.  Luurnpa is regarded as the keeper of the law and his influence spreads far from these women’s homes in Balgo. In this painting, Luurnpa creates with significant creeks, which meander around the edges. He puts his beak into the ground to create waterholes (seen as circles). People (U-shapes) walk to gather food (footprints) and are especially pleased when they find a rich vein of potatoes (elongated brown ovals).

Ancestral Modern: Australian Aboriginal Art from the Kaplan & Levi Collection opens on Thursday, 31 May (with a preview for SAM members on Wednesday, 30 May, 11:00am-6:00pm).

Wirrimanu (Balgo), 1999, Balgo Women (Tjemma Freda Napanangka, ca. 1930–2004; Margaret Anjulle, born 1946; Patricia Lee Napangarti, born 1960; Mati Mudgidell, ca. 1935–2002; Lucy Yukenbarri, 1934–2003; Eubena Nampitjin, born ca. 1920), Australian Aboriginal, Kukatja, Wangkajunga, and Warlpiri peoples, Balgo (Wirrimanu), Kimberley/Western Desert, Western Australia, synthetic polymer paint on canvas, 47 5/8 x 116 1/8 in., Promised gift of Margaret Levi and Robert Kaplan. On view in Ancestral Modern, special exhibition galleries, fourth floor, SAM downtown, starting Thursday, 31 May.
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