6 February 2023

NGA draws on rich First Nations art collection to headline 2023 program

| Sally Hopman
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Indigenous painting

Ngura Pulka by Sylvia Ken, Pitjantjatjara people, Seven Sisters, 2022. Photo: Courtesy of © Sylvia Ken, Tjala Arts and National Gallery of Australia.

The National Gallery of Australia (NGA) will celebrate the richness and diversity of Indigenous art with two major exhibitions starring in its 2023 artistic program.

NGA director Dr Nick Mitzevich described the two Indigenous exhibitions, Ngura Pulka – Epic Country and Emily Kame Kngwarreye, as “a celebration of the vitality and importance of First Nations art”.

Ngura Pulka – Epic Country, which opens in June, is the Aṉangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Art Centre Collective’s latest and most ambitious initiative – 29 large-scale paintings by three generations of Aṉangu artists alongside the most ambitious Kulata Tjuta installation so far.

The NGA’s head curator, First Nations art, Bruce Johnson McLean, described Ngura Pulka as “one of the largest and most significant First Nations, community-driven art projects to have ever been developed”.

“The exhibition will present 30 major works by three generations of First Nations artists, including 27 large-scale 3m x 3m paintings by individual artists, two astonishing 3m x 5m collaborative paintings and an extraordinary installation of 2500 spears, the pinnacle of the decade-long Kulata Tjuta (Many Spears) project,” he said.

Indigenous painting

Untitled (Awely) by Emily Kame Kngwarreye, Anmatyerre people, 1994, National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra. Purchased in 2022 in celebration of the National Gallery of Australia’s 40th anniversary. Photo: NGA.

The second First Nations exhibition features an extensive survey of the work of Anmatyerre artist Kngwarreye, who is renowned for her depictions of Country and ancient traditions.

“As well as being one of Australia’s most celebrated artists, Emily Kame Kngwarreye is acknowledged as among the world’s most significant contemporary painters to have emerged in the 20th century,” Dr Mitzevich said.

The Kngwarreye exhibition opens in December.

READ ALSO Cressida Campbell’s NGA show is a gentle, beautiful examination of everyday life

To mark the 2023 Enlighten Festival, the NGA has commissioned a collective of Yolŋu digital artists from North-East Arnhem Land to illuminate the building’s facade in March.

It will also display a new, as-yet-unnamed major installation of nine large grindstone forms by renowned Wiradjuri/Kamilaroi artist Jonathan Jones, which has been touring the country and internationally as part of the exhibition Ever Present: First Peoples Art of Australia.

The 2023-24 NGA program continues in December with the world premiere of Body Sculpture, a new animatronic sculpture by international artist Jordan Wolfson.

Dr Mitzevich said this sculpture was part of the NGA’s “brave and bold” style of collecting, “which has been at the heart of its acquisition strategy since foundation”.

Tattooist at work

Mark tattooing Mark, Boston, 1978. This is part of the personal collection of US photographer Nan Goldin acquired by the NGA and scheduled to go on show in July. Photo: NGA.

“This major new acquisition builds on this legacy, embracing new and emerging global paradigms outside of traditional collecting areas,” he said.

It is the first solo presentation of Wolfson’s work in Australia and will be shown alongside a selection of earlier works, offering Australian audiences a full expression of the artist’s innovative vision.

Dr Mitzevich said the NGA’s Know My Name gender-equity initiative would continue this season with two solo exhibitions by leading women artists: Changing From From to From, a presentation of recent works by leading Seoul and Berlin-based artist Haegue Yang; and an exhibition of the American photographer Nan Goldin’s most renowned series, The Ballad of Sexual Dependency.

Also, from July, the NGA will share more of its collection with regional and suburban galleries as part of the Sharing the National Collection initiative, funded under the Australian Government’s new National Cultural Policy.

“This support will allow us to share more of the national collection with more Australians and local communities – making it a truly national collection,” Dr Mitzevich said.

For more details about the NGA’s 2023-24 program, go to the website.

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