Aboriginal art and the artworld



Publication Details

McLean, I. A. "Aboriginal art and the artworld." How Aborigines Invented the Idea of Contemporary Art a documentary history 1980-2006. Ed.I. A. McLean. Sydney: IMA and Power Publications, 2011, 17-76.


The Australian artworld first noticed the Papunya Tula painting movement in the early1980s. To many it was an historical aberration lacking legitimacy because the paintingshad seemingly arrived from outside rather than through any internal artworld prerogative.At this time the Australian artworld was adrift from its familiar moorings andanxiously learning to navigate the cross currents of postmodernism. Most consideredthe Papunya paintings a distraction, more an exotic curiosity than serious art business.Their poetry, now so striking and inventive, then seemed elusive and fragile, even asham. In 1982 Graeme Sturgeon worried that they 'may look superficially the same [astraditional Aboriginal art] but be, in fact, meaningless decoration'.' Two years later ElwynLynn called them 'the Clay tons of abstract art; what you swallow, rather uncritically,when you have given up Mondrian gin, Pollock whisky and Poliakoff vodka'; 'the kindof abstract art you like when you do not like abstract art'.2 Many could not see the newfad lasting. At most it was a wildcard for uncertain times. Those few who sensed a spiritworth gambling on were vindicated. The artworld's hesitant curiosity about Papunya Tulapainting quickly became an embrace. It grew into the most significant development oflate-twentieth-century Australian art.

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Power Publications

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