UVA Arts, University of Virginia

Vol 18 Spring 24 Library
Photograph of Lisa Waup and Basil Hall leading a printmaking demonstration with students in Akemi Ohira’s Intermediate/Advanced Printmaking class in the Ruffin Hall print studio at the University of Virginia. Photograph by Tom Cogill.

The Gift that Keeps Giving: Basil Hall Delivers Programmatic Rewards for Kluge-Ruhe

In its 25th year as a public museum, the Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection is widely acclaimed as an exemplar of the idea and practice of collaboration. From its inception, Kluge-Ruhe has been about so much more than the art. It has been about building bridges with people and communities and shining a light on vibrant cultures.

It seems fitting that collaboration is the guiding principle behind an extraordinary gift to the museum of 1,316 fine-art prints from master printmaker Basil Hall. Hall has worked collaboratively with leading Indigenous Australian artists for more than 40 years, and about half of this time is represented by the collection. "We have the greatest respect for the work Basil Hall has done throughout his long career," said Kluge-Ruhe Director Margo Smith. "This gift is meaningful to us in many ways. It significantly expands the collection and includes artists who are not otherwise represented. We can now share a greater diversity of styles of art and themes that are important to artists from across Australia."

Hall got his start in 1996 when he answered a newspaper advertisement for a job at Northern Editions, the print studio at Charles Darwin University in Australia's Northern Territory. "They wanted someone with experience running a printmaking workshop to help them build a business that would go out and work with Indigenous communities," Hall said. In 2002, he opened his own studio, Basil Hall Editions. Since then, he has introduced hundreds of Indigenous artists to what he calls "this strange business of printmaking." He has worked with independent artists and artists in more than 60 different Indigenous-run art centers in the Northern Territory, South Australia, and Western Australia.

Photograph of Basil Hall and Butcher Janangoo Cherel at Mangkaja Arts painting the etching plate for his print Girndi, 2008.
(Photo: Courtesy of Basil Hall.)

Hall's history with Kluge-Ruhe dates back more than 20 years to one of the museum's early exhibitions featuring prints by Aboriginal artists. "What impressed me about the place," Hall said, "was not only the facilities they had but also the success they were already having in spreading the word about Australian Aboriginal art. There was so much knowledge, understanding, and passion in everything they were doing."

When he decided to donate his collection of workshop proofs, Hall was reminded about Kluge-Ruhe by Professor Douglas Fordham, Professor and Chair of the UVA Art Department, who met with him during a visit to Australia. Fordham made a good case for Kluge-Ruhe's work with UVA faculty members who use prints in their research and teaching. "I was so happy that they showed interest in it from the very start," Hall said, "and I know it is going to a place where it will be used and consulted and will form this amazing resource that the University of Virginia has now."

Smith said the overall value and importance of a gift of this size is almost impossible to quantify in a university setting. To start, the collection has been the focus of the newly established First Nations Curatorial Fellowship. "Kluge-Ruhe is committed to promoting Indigenous leadership in every aspect of the work we do," said Curator Eleanore Neumann. When this goal was articulated in the museum's Strategic Plan 2021-26, funding partner Creative Australia came forward with a proposal to support a curatorial residency. "The collaborative nature of printmaking and the way that Basil Hall has worked with artists made his collection the ideal curatorial project with which to launch the fellowship," Neumann added.

As the inaugural fellow, Jessyca Hutchens, a Palyku woman and art historian who is a lecturer in the School of Indigenous Studies at the University of Western Australia, curated the first exhibition from the collection. Shifting Ground (March 9, 2024-March 2, 2025) explores the dynamic terrain of Australian Indigenous printmaking over the last twenty years. "The collection truly showcases how innovative and significant Indigenous printmaking practice has been to the cultural ecology and how Indigenous artists have really shifted the way we see the medium," said Hutchens. Shifting Ground was sponsored by Molly and Robert Hardie.

Photograph of Jessyca Hutchens, the inaugural First Nations Curatorial Fellow at Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal in the exhibition Shifting Ground.
(Photo: Tom Cogill)

In conjunction with the exhibition's opening, Kluge-Ruhe organized Curating Indigenous Printmaking, a week-long workshop for First Nations curators hosted in partnership with UVA's Department of Art. Six Indigenous Australian curators and six Native American curators delved into the emergent field of Indigenous Australian printmaking, which remains largely overlooked despite the increasingly important role it has played within Indigenous art practice. The workshop was funded by a major grant to Kluge-Ruhe from the Getty Foundation as part of the Paper Project initiative.

Photograph of Karen Mills, artist-in-residence at Kluge-Ruhe, showing her prints during the Curating Indigenous Printmaking workshop.
(Photo: Tom Cogill)

Two artists were also in residence at Kluge-Ruhe, Karen Mills (Balanggarra) and Lisa Waup (Gunditjmara, Torres Strait Islander, Italian). Mills had previously collaborated with Hall,  but this was the first opportunity that Waup had to make new work with him. To foster a deeper understanding of Indigenous printmaking, the artists lead printmaking demonstrations with Hall at UVA and the Virginia Center for the Book. They also participated in a public conversation about Indigenous printmaking. Two of Mills' evocative prints are featured in Shifting Ground, while Waup's month-long residency coincided with her exhibition at Kluge-Ruhe, close to the wind: LISA WAUP (December 16, 2023-June 30, 2024).

The value of the Basil Hall collection will continue to be felt in UVA's classrooms and studios. Fordham, a print specialist, has been using artworks from Kluge-Ruhe's collection for years in his teaching. The same is true for UVA Assistant Professor Henry Skerritt, an Adjunct Curator at Kluge-Ruhe. Faculty will be able to draw on this enormous body of work for their innovative courses, including seminars on curation. The gift will also build on the longstanding relationship that Kluge-Ruhe has with the printmaking faculty, especially Akemi Ohira and Jackson Taylor. "We often bring the artists we host for residencies to work with studio art," Smith said. "It is a great way for students to witness the artists at work and maybe have some role in the production of the prints." 

Hall's gift will distinguish Kluge-Ruhe as a center for the study of Indigenous printmaking. A team of UVA graduate and undergraduate students, including Emmy Monaghan, Ashley Prillerman, and Aiden Travers, have been cataloging the collection under the supervision of Senior Collections Manager and Registrar Nicole Wade so that other scholars and curators can begin to use it. Work is also underway to make the collection accessible online to audiences around the world. As one of Australia's leading printmakers, Hall brings a wealth of knowledge and deep relationships with Indigenous artists and communities. "Basil is a font of knowledge," Smith said, "and so much of it is untapped. We will download the stories he remembers about all these projects to bring the people and cultures behind them to life."

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