UVA Arts, University of Virginia

Vol 10 Summer 19 Library
Renowned Kuninjku artist Balang John Mawurndjul discusses his art practice at the Beyond Dreamings symposium in February. (Credit: Stacey Evans)
The Kluge-Ruhe

Reflecting on Beyond Dreamings and the History of Aboriginal Art

In 1988, a major exhibition at the Asia Society Galleries in New York changed the course of art history by introducing the international art world to the wonders of Aboriginal Australian art. It also inspired John W. Kluge to begin building his collection, which led to the creation of the Kluge-Ruhe Collection and its identity as an internationally-renowned leader in its field. Titled Dreamings: The Art of Aboriginal Australia, the exhibition was a major turning point in the international reception of Aboriginal art, marking what anthropologist Fred Myers called the moment when “Aboriginal art emphatically became fine art.” 

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This year, to celebrate the exhibition’s 30th anniversary, Kluge-Ruhe presented Beyond Dreamings: A Symposium Investigating the Importance and Legacies of Indigenous Australian Art in the United States. The three-day event brought an international array of artists, curators, anthropologists, and historians from Australia and the United States together to discuss the historic exhibition and explore its significance in the three decades that have followed. Indigenous curator Djon Mundine (Bandjalung), who organized the iconic Aboriginal Memorial at the National Gallery of Australia, delivered the keynote address in conversation with Kluge-Ruhe director Margo Smith on Thursday evening. A panel on Friday morning featured members of the curatorial team for the Dreamings exhibition: Peter Sutton (University of Adelaide), Chris Anderson, and Françoise Dussart (University of Connecticut), moderated by John Carty, Head of Humanities at the South Australian Museum, which has the largest collection of Aboriginal art in the world. Eleanore Neumann, an art history graduate student who co-curated the Beyond Dreamings exhibition at Kluge-Ruhe, explored the impact of Dreamings on American collectors. Balang John Mawurndjul OAM (Kunwinjku), who was recently described by Washington Post art critic Sebastian Smee as “the greatest Aboriginal artist unknown in America,” discussed his artwork in his language, translated by linguist Murray Garde. On Friday afternoon art historian Terry Smith (University of Pittsburgh) and Maia Nuku (Associate Curator of Oceanic Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art), spoke about how Indigenous arts of the Pacific changes our understanding of global art history and contemporary art theory. 

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