Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Details

McLean, I. "Inventing Australian Aboriginal art: from anti-art to fine art." World Art and the Legacies of Colonial Violence. Ed.D. J. Rycroft. Aldershot, United Kingdom: Ashgate, 2013, 83-109.


When the National Gallery of Australia (NGA) opened in October 1982, therewas no provision for the display of Australian Aboriginal art (or indigenousart of Australia; henceforth Aboriginal art).2 While the NGA collectedAboriginal art, this was not high on its exhibition agenda. A few yearsearlier, the inaugural Director of the NGA, James Mollison, had explainedwhy: 'Aboriginal art is now collected on a national basis by the Institute ofAboriginal Studies', and 'we would hope to borrow from the Institute whennecessary, to represent this aspect of our [national] art'.3 No one had foreseenthat within a few years Aboriginal art would be the subject of intense artworldinterest as contemporary art, or that the NGA would embark on an ambitiousnew acquisition and exhibition programme. While there were plenty ofgalleries for exhibiting contemporary art in the NGA- it was known for itscollection and display of contemporary art -Aboriginal art never seemed tohave a satisfactory home there.4 Not until October 2010, with the opening ofa purpose-built new wing for Aboriginal art that also doubled as the newmuch grander entrance to the NGA- did the matter finally seem resolved.