Thursday 29 May 2014

Papunya Tula art from the Chartwell Collection

Billy Stockman Tjapaltjarri,  Budgerigar Dreaming At Ilpitirri 1987 
Soon after my family and I moved to Sydney in 1999, I started as a volunteer at the Mosman Art Gallery. Not long after, a touring exhibition of work from Papunya Tula artists opened at the gallery and I was asked to take a tour of the show for the public.

I was somewhat astounded as I did not know anything about Papunya Tula art, couldn’t find relevant locations on a map, and had never visited that part of Australia or knew any of the artists. How could I take this tour based on zero knowledge but a lot of curiosity to learn? I decided the best policy was to ask people in the group that arrived for the tour, to take ME on the tour instead and it worked really well as people in the group had all sorts of connections and knowledge of the place and the artists and I started to learn about the history of the Papunya Art movement.

So my limited knowledge of Papunya Tula began, more from an exploratory position of unknowing, if you like: from the position of the outsider wanting to learn more.

Now, many years later, with the opening of My Country at Auckland Art Gallery, I have revisited the work and this time, I had the Aboriginal works from the Chartwell Collection to draw on when considering the influence and impact of the Papunya Tula art movement on Australian art.

Over the years, my father Rob acquired some major works by Aboriginal artists for the Chartwell Collection. This is a collection of New Zealand and Australian contemporary art held on long-term loan at Auckland Art Gallery and it holds fine examples of works by major Papunya Tula artists such as Billy Stockman Tjapaltjarri, Charlie Tjaruru Tjungurrayi and Mick Namerari Tjapaltjarri, all senior artists who were involved in the establishment of the Papunya Tula Pty Ltd in the early 1970s.

Recently, researcher Ariane Craig-Smith looked into the development of this collection of work and wrote about it on the Chartwell Collection website. (Ariane Craig-Smith, 2014:

As Ariane noted, it was very unusual to be looking at Aboriginal work in the 1980s – especially coming from a collecting perspective in New Zealand. As Rob Gardiner explained to her, it was about that time that he was visiting Australia regularly to see major exhibitions and purchase works for the Collection. ‘Trips were planned to include visits to galleries showing contemporary Aboriginal artists and I was also interested in the work of Australian artists Ian Fairweather and Tony Tuckson,’ Rob explains. Driving his interest in the painting process and style of Fairweather, Tuckson, and the Aboriginal painters, was his curiosity about mark-making and the picture surface, which firstly drew him to the works of Papunya Tula artists, then to the astonishing work of Emily Kame Kngwarreye, which he first discovered at the Utopia Gallery. As he describes it, ‘at the time there was a perception that one should understand and respect the meanings and stories driving Aboriginal works, from an anthropological point of view. But I was encountering these works without that knowledge and could only respond by empathy with their formal content, the energy of their marks, and the painterly languages involved.’

Mick Namerari Tjapaltjarri Untitled 1994
Billy Stockman Tjapaltjarri, Charlie Tjaruru Tjungurrayi and Mick Namerari Tjapaltjarri were integral to the development of the Papunya Tula art movement, meeting the teacher Geoffrey Bardon when he arrived to teach at the local school in Papunya in 1971. The Central Desert government settlement of Papunya is 240 kilometers north west of Alice Springs. As a result of the Government’s assimilation policies, Papunya was the last of the Aboriginal reserves to be set up by the Federal Government in 1961. By the time Bardon arrived, it was a community of over 1000 people beset by poor living conditions, health problems and great inter-tribal conflicts between groups. Bardon started to work on art projects with the children and this work was to become a matter of interest to the Aboriginal adults such as Billy Stockman Tjapaltjarri, the school yardman, and village councillors such as Mick Namerari Tjapaltjarri. They were intrigued by the painting he was encouraging in the classroom with the children and later were among the group involved in the establishment of Papunya Tula Pty Ltd.

Initially using available school supplies of poster paint, paint brushes and paper, as well as found boards and off cuts, the rapidly growing group of artists produced a lot of work over a short, intensive period of painting, including the creation of five murals at the school: A Practice Dreaming, Widows Dreaming mural, Wallaby Dreaming mural, Snake Dreaming mural and the Honey Ant Dreaming in two versions.

Years later, in the late 1980s, these artists’ careers developed further with Billy Stockman Tjapaltjarri representing Papunya Tula artists on several international cultural exchange projects and travelling to New York in 1988 for the opening of the ‘Dreamings’ show at the Asia Society Gallery. This was the year after he painted the work now in the Chartwell Collection. Charlie Tjaruru Tjungurrayi was the first Papunya artist to have a retrospective exhibition, held at Orange Regional Gallery in 1987, the same year Chartwell acquired his work.

Jonathan Jones untitled (sum of the parts) 2010/2014
More recent acquisitions to Chartwell include the fluorescent tube, light installation by Jonathan Jones, untitled (sum of the parts), 2010, currently on show in Auckland Art Gallery’s north Atrium, and the digital work, Light Painting (2010–11), by Nyapanyapa Yunupingu. Just as Billy Stockman Tjapatljarri was one of the first artists to begin painting large-scale canvases in the 1970s, these artists are exploring technology in new ways.

– Sue Gardiner, Chartwell Trust

Image credits:

Billy Stockman Tjapaltjarri
Budgerigar Dreaming At Ilpitirri 1987
acrylic on linen
Chartwell Collection, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, 1987 

Mick Namerari Tjapaltjarri
Untitled 1994
acrylic on linen
Chartwell Collection, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, 1995 

Jonathan Jones
untitled (sum of the parts) 2010/2014
fluorescent tubes, wiring, electrical cable
Chartwell Collection, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, 2010

Monday 19 May 2014

Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki: a working environment with a big friendly team – and even bigger smiles

I have recently begun to work at the Gallery as the Toi Māori Intern. This opportunity was made possible by the support of Toi Māori, a charitable trust that encourages and supports the potential of contemporary Māori art with the aim to ‘promote the uniqueness, quality and cultural expression of Māori art’.

So, who am I? I’m Martin Awa Clarke Langdon and I recently completed my Masters in Fine Art at The University of Auckland. I am a practising artist based in South Auckland with a background in graphic design, sign writing and print. My multidisciplinary art practice looks at the spaces between cultures, spaces of tension and conversation. I whakapapa to Tainui and Ngāi Tahu and was born and raised in Papatoetoe, Auckland.

Auckland Art Gallery always seemed a far off place to me. I thought I might only be associated with through my art making – that at some point in my career I could create a work of distinction, one that may be included in a collection such as Auckland’s.

Before starting here I saw art institutions like the Gallery as places that provided mediation (to those in and outside of the artworld) in the ongoing conversation of the whakapapa of Aotearoa New Zealand art. Now that I am here, I feel humbled by the access I am given and the view I have into the way this art institution runs, as well as being able to learn more about te ao toi – the art world. I never considered a possibility of being on the other side of those stanchions, working behind the scenes to make things happen.

Auckland Art Gallery is the largest organisation I've ever worked in – its staff is just over 100 people. My next largest workplace had a staff of 12. The Gallery has its internal networks of teams who work in the fields of curatorship, visitor services, marketing, art conservation, editorial, exhibition design, learning programmes, retail and more. It is also a public institution, part of the Auckland Council structure and accountable for its operations in the same way the city’s other facilities are – for example the stadiums, MOTAT and the zoo.

The magnitude of the organisation is slightly daunting. There are so many layers and components that make the Gallery work. From the outside we see a clean, well-maintained and ever-changing display of art and public programmes, which show art engagement at its best. I think the measure of the Gallery’s success is just how effortlessly these exhibitions, spanning medieval to contemporary art and including almost every medium, appear for our pleasure.

Now that I am part of the behind-the-scenes machine, I ask myself where and how does a Māori/Pakeha artist from South Auckland fit in? Where I am from, institutions like this are seen as alienating, elite places, too hard to access and where ‘we’ don’t fit in or are even appreciated for what we know and what ‘we’ bring to the conversation. But, my experience in the first few weeks has been amazing: I am starting to realise the value of what I bring in experience and understanding. I am also starting to engage with the content housed in the Gallery’s collection – artwork, text and archives. I feel the richness of knowledge the Gallery holds.

And, as a ‘newby’, the staff here appear welcoming, friendly and helpful. Offers of a helping hand and useful bites of information from different people have allowed me to better understand the Gallery and all its interwoven threads, hopefully providing inroads to a successful transition into being ‘part of the team’. The many friendly faces and even more helpful words have provided some relief to the initial feeling of awe. 

Watching the team in action is something to behold – everyone taking on their responsibilities with confidence, working alongside and interacting with colleagues to ensure the smooth running of the place that you see when you visit us.

– Martin Awa Clarke Langdon, Toi Māori Intern

Monday 12 May 2014

Old stories, new voices

Vincent Serico, Carnavon collision (Big map) 2006 (installation view)
Artists in My Country and Five Māori Painters, two exhibitions currently on show at Auckland Art Gallery, tell stories about Dreaming, family, politics and contemporary life. Many of these stories don’t appear in – and some are actively written out of – mainstream histories. The artworks that these artists create offer affecting new ways of considering and understanding the past and the world in which we exist.

Vincent Serico, Carnavon collision (Big map) 2006
In the first room of My Country, under the theme of ‘My History’, hangs Vincent Serico’s Carnavon collision (Big map), 2006, at first glance a seemingly peaceful history painting, but one which in fact subtly allude to violent incidents between white settlers and the Jiman people in Central Queensland in the 19th century. With an eye on the past, Serico records memories passed down from others with naïf-like simplicity, he went on to produce a folio of images depicting tribal histories in Some people are Stories. These works needle accepted versions of the past – the victors’ histories – giving a voice to those who were silenced while keeping Indigenous knowledge alive.

Storytelling in art also responds to contemporary life and events as they happen – creating immediate visual interpretations. Aboriginal artist Gordon Hookey and senior Māori artist Robyn Kahukiwa offer contemporary perspectives on national politics with works such as King Hit (for Queen and country), 1999 and Bloodscent 2004. Hookey’s painted punching bag and gloves in King Hit critique leader of the One Nation party Pauline Hanson’s position and takes a weighty aim at the Howard government and its relationship with Hanson’s party during the late 1990s. Robyn Kahukiwa’s Bloodscent, a response to Don Brash’s infamous Orewa speech of 2004, in which he called for an end to Treaty grievances and ‘one rule for all’, viscerally alludes to the speech’s fuelling of racist sentiment. This is consciousness-raising storytelling reminding the viewer of surprisingly recent events.

Gordon Hookey, King Hit (for Queen and country) 1999 (installation view)
With recognisable and provocative imagery, Hookey and Kahukiwa interrogate the actions of political figures, and challenge the sanctioned speeches and policies of their nation’s governments. Using animal allegories, figurative characters and iconic symbols painted in a bold, colourful style they evoke deep concerns about the reality of Indigenous people’s lives. In Hookey’s Defy, 2010 kangaroos, native to Australia, represent Indigenous people, while in King Hit (for Queen and country), 1999, politicians and the police become pigs – animals some consider, unclean and which were introduced to Australia. Even with their pronounced porcine features, the cartoonish figures of King Hit remain recognisable as Pauline Hanson, David Oldfield and Prime Minister John Howard. Under the umbrella of nationalism, Hanson advocated for policies unsympathetic to cultural difference. On the canvas of King Hit, Hookey symbolises the power structure of the state with row upon row of police, all of whom look the same. But it’s not all dark, as Hookey wraps his Orwellian scene round a piece of gym equipment, the disturbing nature and impact of the imagery is softened with humour. Hookey likened his bag to a dart board hanging in a staff room onto which someone has stuck an image of the boss. With the Aboriginal flag painted on a pair of boxing gloves Hookey suggests the oppressed can fight back by making the king hit.

Robyn Kahukiwa, Bloodscent 2004
Contrasting Hookey’s cartoonish lampooning, Kahukiwa’s Bloodscent offers a response to the Orewa speech which appears like a scene from a frightening fairy tale. Kahukiwa also uses animals to represent problems in society: the mythical and leonine Taniwha, emblazoned with the Tino Rangitiratanga flag, arches its head back while a pack of grey dogs stalk it from behind symbolising those in society who attack when a group or individual is weakened. Like the best fairy tales or myths, the messages here run deep, and have the power to amplify for greater effect and better clarity.

- Julia Waite, Assistant Curator

Image credits:

Vincent Serico 
WakkaWakka and KabiKabi people
QLD 1949-2008

Carnarvon collision (Big map) 2006
Synthetic polymer paint on linen
203 x 310cm
Acc. 2007.245
Purchased 2007. Queensland Art Gallery Foundation

Gordon Hookey
Waanyi people
Australia  QLD/NSW  b.1961
King hit (for Queen and Country) 1999
Synthetic polymer paint and oil on leather punching bag and gloves with steel swivel and rope noose
Bag: 96 x 34cm (diam.);  gloves:  29 x 16 x 12cm (each);  rope noose: 250cm
Purchased 2000.  Queensland Art Gallery Foundation Grant

Robyn Kahukiwa
Bloodscent 2004
oil on canvas
private collection, Wellington
image courtesy of the artist

Tuesday 6 May 2014

Taking the Leap: The Youth Advisory Group Pilot


This year we are piloting our first Youth Advisory Group (yet to be re-named by the young people involved – something snappier, more relevant, and ideally less formal). Thirteen young people who have previously been involved in our Youth Media Internships are using this year to plan and run programmes for the Gallery. Aimed at young people, planned by young people.

The purposes of the Learning Programmes team, the Educators, and the Advisory Group 

Their interpretation of RESPECT, IMAGINATION and CHALLENGES – the values they set as a group 
Being a pilot programme, we wanted to use young people who were already we knew through previous programming, as we wanted them to already be familiar with the Gallery and its processes. As they were the guinea pigs, we felt this existing relationship put us and them on safer ground. We could feel out this year, tweak things, and get their input and evaluations. Knowing we could offer them a safe and creative space to work in developing leadership skills and programming. I feel the reality is, a pilot is inherently ‘less safe’ for all involved than an established programme. I trusted these young people, and hopefully they trusted the Gallery, to use them in this experiment! Based on all our many inevitable learnings this year, applications will open up more widely next time around.

Overseas, there are existing models for youth committees at galleries and museums, so we are not inventing anything new. So while we have an idea of where these groups can end up in the long term, we were going in blind in terms of the short term – what did these existing programmes overseas do in their first year to get to that point? How much ownership did the young people have in the development of the values, goals and outcomes? How much staff planning time was this going to take?! Etc etc! All the while, wanting to create something that was unique and relevant to these young people, Auckland, and this Gallery.

Taking part in an ice breaker – searching for artworks then creating a tableaux
All these questions could only be answered by taking the leap. While this group of young people sit under the purposes of the Learning Programmes team – and the groups own purpose is to create participatory, collaborate, Gallery-based events for young people – within these parameters there was plenty of room to move and experiment.

So far, the members have set the values of the group. They are going to value: Imagination, Respect, and Challenges. They have set personal goals for the group (things within their control and not outcome based). They have researched overseas models and considered questions like:

  • Were the events planned by a youth committee or by the Gallery? 
  • Which events/programmes seemed to fit with our values? 
  • How accessible were these events? 
  • What type of audience were they trying to attract? 

On top of the potentially heavy, overwhelming journey ahead, each meeting I try to get them involved in a Gallery programme so they are learning first hand what is possible here, what we already have on offer, and have fun! They have taken part in:

A Drop-in Drawing Session 

Doodle in the Dark (one of our Gallery Games)

Kangaroo Crew 

So far so good! They are a really enthusiastic, creative and inquisitive group, and I have no doubt through this process that they will learn a huge amount about not just the gallery, but about themselves as learners and people.

Next time I will talk more about what I have had to change and adapt through the process and not such a blow-by-blow account of what happens.

– Selina Anderson, Senior Gallery Educator

Links to research mentioned:

For more information about our Youth programmes: