Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Details

McLean, I. A. "Aboriginal cosmopolitans: A prehistory of Western Desert Painting." Globalisation and Contemporary Art. Ed.H. Jonathan. Oxford: Blackwell, 2011, 147-160.


During the 1990s, the vibrant patterns of Western Desert painting became the international brand of Australia, selling it as a different, dynamic, innovative country. The sales pitch only worked because Aboriginal art had just experienced a radical makeover. Previously it had been an adman's nightmare: primitive, hopelessly anachronistic, dogmatic, and irrelevant. The makeover occurred in the 1980s, when the Australian art world suddenly noticed an affinity between New York School late modernist art and Western Desert painting. After its New York debut in October 1988, one critic pronounced: ''Aboriginal art at its best is as powerful as any abstract painting I can think of." She even believed that "Modernism has allowed us to comprehend the Aboriginal point of view."'