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ExhibitionAncestral Modern: Australian Aboriginal Art

Jan 26–Apr 22, 2018

colorful lines on canvas

Exhibition Overview

Since the 1960s, Indigenous Australian and Torres Strait Islander artists have spearheaded a renaissance in the world’s oldest continuous artistic tradition, innovating within the idioms of visual languages that have developed over the course of millennia. While these dazzling paintings and beguiling sculptures often share formal characteristics with Western modern art, they represent conscientious efforts on the part of Aboriginal artists to share their culture with outsiders.

The exhibition comprises approximately fifty pieces assembled by Seattle-based collectors Robert Kaplan and Margaret Levi. Organized both geographically and thematically, the exhibition explores the dramatic revolution that began in the mid-twentieth century, when artists from numerous cultural groups began to adapt traditional artistic practices—songs, ceremonies, body art, and bark or rock paintings—for audiences outside their families or communities. This transition coincided with a broad shift in the reception of Aboriginal art, as museums in Australia and beyond began to actively collect and exhibit contemporary work by indigenous Australian artists. Though rooted in age-old cultural forms, these powerfully immediate works now occupy a singular and increasingly prominent place in global contemporary art.

Programming & Financial Support

Presented locally with support generous support from the Brittingham Trust and from the Mildred L. Stolberg Fund, and in part by a grant from the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts.

The exhibition is organized by the American Federation of Arts and the Seattle Art Museum. It was made possible by the generosity of Mrs. Donald M. Cox, the Wolfensohn Family Foundation, and an anonymous donor.