Papunya Painting: Out of the Desert

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The period from the formation of Papunya Tula Artists to the inclusion of Papunya artists’ work in the 1981 Australian Perspecta exhibition at the AGNSW is one of the most revolutionary and under-researched in Indigenous art. The transformation of the Papunya painters from recorders of their tribal traditions into contemporary painters occurred largely without the attentions of either public cultural institutions or the Australian art world, supported only by the Aboriginal Arts Board of the Australia Council. Even the paintings produced in this period remained hidden in museum vaults until this exhibition. The exhibition Papunya Painting: Out of the Desert, curated by Vivian Johnson, facilitated the displayed of major works from the most significant period in the history of desert art. The show enabled the NMA to examine and subsequently showcase its holdings in a manner both consistent with its brief as a social and cultural history museum and with the current status of the paintings as foundation works of the contemporary Indigenous art movement. Until this time the NMA had been unaware of the extent and significance of its collection. The critically acclaimed exhibition broke attendance records at the Museum and subsequently toured to the Australian Museum Sydney in 2008 for an extended period. The display of the works, dramatically illuminated in a dark space, sharply differentiating it from the conventional ‘white box’ presentation of artworks, has had considerable impact. The revelations of the scholarly catalogue accompanying the exhibition - now in its second printing - have resulted in a reappraisal of works from this era by both researchers and the art market.
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Johnson, Vivien Joan
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