4 June 1993

Americans now the largest collectors of aboriginal art

INSIDE SYDNEY: Gallery director Helen Hansen has returned from this year's prestigious Chicago International Art Exposition reporting a surge of interest in Aboriginal art in North America.
"Aboriginal art is starting to break seriously into the United States, which is why we've made two trips there in the past six months," the co-director of Paddington's Hogarth Galleries told Inside Sydney yesterday.
Hansen returned on Tuesday from Chicago, where Hogarth became the first gallery ever invited to show Australian Aboriginal art.
"There's enormous interest," Hansen said. "They were fascinated by the connection between the land and the sand and dot paintings. On the other hand, a high percentage of people knew something about Aboriginal art because they had seen the Dreamings Exhibition at the Smart Museum in Chicago in 1989."
Hogarth's showing in Chicago was boosted by the enormous interest generated by Aratjara: Art of the First Australians, a major survey of Australian Aboriginal art showing in Dusseldorf, Germany, until July.
Hansen noted: "By our reckoning, the largest collectors of Aboriginal art in the world are in America."
She added that works of Emily Kame Kngwarreye - paintings of the desert country for which she's responsible as a tribal elder - attracted great interest.
"People were just bowled over by the energy of this woman," Hansen said.
"They'd ask if she'd seen the work of certain contemporary European artists and we'd say not only has she not seen it, she's an 82-year-old Aboriginal woman who lives in the Australian desert and speaks very little English. They'd be amazed at the artistic overlaps and similarities."
John Mawandjul's bark paintings were also a hit with the Americans, with one major work selling for $6,000.
Hansen said the surge in international interest in Aboriginal art was not merely a romantic return to the West's obsession with exotic, so-called"primitive" art.
"The American market has gone beyond that," she said. "It's more sophisticated, and Australian Aboriginal art these days is part of mainstream contemporary art. That's the way we show it - certainly not as primitive art -and people judge it on its own merit. And on that basis, it does extremely well."
Caption: Illus: Helan Hansen, co-director of the Hogarth Galleries in Paddington... found enormous interest in Aboriginal art in the United States. Picture by STEVE CHRISTO
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Publication: Sydney Morning Herald
Publication date: 3-6-1993
Edition: Late
Page no: 2
Section: News and Features
Length: 504
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First published in The Sydney Morning Herald

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