UVA Arts, University of Virginia

Vol 11 Winter 19 Library
The Kluge-Ruhe Collection’s Hungry Emus (1990) by Emily Kame Kngwarreye (painting on the left) was on view in the Desert Painters of Australia exhibition at Gagosian Gallery. Photo Credit: Henry Skerritt
Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection

Gagosian, Steve Martin, & Kluge-Ruhe

The Kluge-Ruhe Collection’s (1990) by Emily Kame Kngwarreye (painting on the left) was on view in the exhibition at Gagosian Gallery. Aboriginal Australian art was the talk of New York City this summer when Gagosian—one of the world's most prestigious commercial galleries—staged the non-selling exhibition Desert Painters: Works from the Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection of the University of Virginia and the Collection of Steve Martin and Anne Stringfield. The legendary comedic actor and musician Steve Martin began collecting Aboriginal in 2015 when he saw the work of artist Warlimpirrnga Tjapaltjarri. Martin was intrigued by the artist's work: "After a lifetime of art-collecting, your eyes search for something you've never seen before. When you first look at [Tjapaltjarri's work], you think it's some kind of Op art. But it's absolutely not. It's an undulating landscape." In January 2019, Martin invited Kluge-Ruhe director Margo Smith AM to view his collection in New York. According to Smith, “When Steve decided to exhibit his collection, he knew he wanted an early work by the great Emily Kame Kngwarreye to give some historical perspective. He was pretty surprised to find that one of her greatest early works was right here at UVA.” A centerpiece of the Kluge-Ruhe Collection, Kngwarreye’s 1990 painting Hungry Emus, has been previously exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, DC. At Gagosian, it hung alongside more recent works from the rapidly growing collection of Martin and his wife, Anne Stringfield. In July, Smith and Kluge-Ruhe curator Henry Skerritt presented a panel discussion with esteemed anthropologist Professor Fred Myers to a standing room only audience at Gagosian. According to Skerritt, "Desert Painters at Gagosian is a clear indicator of the growing interest in Indigenous Australian art in the United States. It shows what we at Kluge-Ruhe have always known, that Indigenous Australian art is one of the most dynamic and important contemporary art movements of our time.” 

- Henry Skerritt

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