Toledo Museum of Art showcases Australian Aboriginal artWritten by Brigitta Burks | News Editor | BBurks@toledofreepress.com
The Toledo Museum of Art’s latest exhibit, Crossing Cultures, is a collection of contemporary Aboriginal Australian artwork that connects the past with the present for TMA Director Brian Kennedy.
Kennedy served as director of the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra from 1997 to 2004 before becoming director of the Hood Museum of Art at Dartmouth College. In 2006, his connection to Australian art deepened when he met Aboriginal art collectors Will Owen and Harvey Wagner while putting on an exhibit. A portion of Owen and Wagner’s collection is now on display at TMA.
Kennedy said of the Toledo exhibit, “It’s quite emotional and I just know that people will be influenced by it, the Aboriginal connection to the land and the culture. The story is so powerful that it cannot help but make us think about our own.”
The exhibit features 120 pieces of contemporary Indigenous art, mostly from post 2000. Artists include Michael Riley, Shorty Jangala Robertson, Danny Gibson Tjapaltjarri, Destiny Deacon, Walangkura Napanangka and Christian Thompson.
Stephen Gilchrist of the Hood Museum curated the exhibit, which is expected to find a permanent home at Dartmouth when it reopens there. Each room in the multimedia exhibit, which includes sculptures, paintings, videos and photos, represents a different region. There are about 550,000 indigenous people in Australia, representing about 2.5 percent of the population, Kennedy said.
Much of the exhibit deals with the indigenous people’s relationship to the land and also their oppression and colonization.
The exhibit starts with a room dedicated to the Stolen Generation, when Aboriginal children were taken from their families and placed in institutions or with other families in an attempt to squash their culture. Crossing Cultures ends in a room called “Crying for Country.”
Gilchrist said he hopes the show inspires Toledoans to think about indigenous Ohioans and to expand their minds in other ways.
“It’s a really good exercise in cultural relativism,” said Gilchrist, a native of Western Australia. “Especially at a gallery in a museum of art, we’re not always confronted with the things that are familiar. There’s a lot that can be learned from experience with the unfamiliar.”
Kennedy said he believes the region’s last Australian Aboriginal art show was nearly 25 years ago so most people will learn something new.
“The museum is a place that engages with all the countries of the world back through civilizations and so bringing art here from around the world just helps make our people more diverse and encourages tolerance and those aspects that we hold dear,” he said, adding that the show could spark a movement toward Aboriginal art collecting in the area.
“I’ve never seen a major Aboriginal art show that didn’t encourage some people to collect Aboriginal art. It has that sort of visceral connection with some people,” he said.
Owen recalled his “dumb luck” in the late 1980s when he and Wagner first came across Aboriginal art in New York City.
“We were so taken with it that two years later, we went to Australia and bought our first painting,” Owen said, adding that he’s attracted to the variety found in indigenous art.
“One of the things that we wanted to do in building this collection was really try to represent all the very, very different kinds of art making that goes on in Aboriginal Australia,” he said.
“I think people expect it to be old and [depict] animals, kangaroos and turtles and things like that so I hope they just learn how beautiful and how diverse it is.”
Crossing Cultures includes a number of talks and activities, Kennedy said, adding that he thinks the free admission will encourage attendance.
“It encourages people to engage with a different kind of art form that they may not be familiar with and to enjoy it, so I think we’ll get a very large number of people,” he said.
He also said the Toledo Zoo’s May 24 debut of Wild Walkabout, an Australian exhibit, could encourage attendance.
“Both the Toledo Zoo and the Toledo Museum of Art are incredible organizations that are respected by their peers worldwide, and beloved by their communities,” said the zoo’s Executive Director, Jeff Sailer, in a news release. “By working together and sharing our talents, we’re able to offer all our guests an even more meaningful experience.”
Crossing Cultures includes free presentations and other related programming like “Symbols, Stories & Social Justice,” an exhibit in the Community Gallery for which University of Toledo art students created personal symbols from their own lives inspired by Australian Aboriginal art.
At 7:30 p.m. May 31, Kennedy will present “In the Eye of the Storm: Aboriginal Australian Art Today” in the museum’s Little Theater. Owen will host a gallery talk, starting in Libbey Court, at 2 p.m. June 8 and 15. Gilchrist will host another at 7 p.m. June 14.
The exhibit also features several free film showings. “Art+Soul: A Personal Journey Into the World of Aboriginal Art” is at 1 p.m. April 20. The three-part series depicts curator Hetti Perkins’ journey through Australia, speaking to different artists.
For additional programming and to learn more, visit www.toledomuseum.org/exhibitions/crossingcultures/. The museum is located at 2445 Monroe St. Museum hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, noon to 6 p.m. Sunday and closed Mondays and major holidays. Crossing Cultures runs until July 14.