Warlimpirrnga Tjapaltjarri Marawa Licensed by Aboriginal Artists Agency Ltd courtesy Papunya Tula Artists

This Exhibition Has Ended

June 9, 2016
August 14, 2016
In the Bartels, Gold, and Moak Galleries

This exhibition showcases the work of nine Aboriginal artists from remote northwest Australia, revered as community leaders and the custodians of ceremonial knowledge. They took up painting late in their lives, but quickly established themselves at the forefront of Australian contemporary art. This exhibition reveals a period of diverse experimentation, as these artists worked to purposefully shift Aboriginal art from the literal depiction of sacred objects, creatively and faithfully seeking new ways of expressing cultural, temporal, and environmental wisdom, as well as their personal and family histories.

Aboriginal Australians have made art for tens of thousands of years. The paintings here share a common inheritance with body painting as well as painted sacred and ceremonial objects including boards, shields, stones, and objects of religious significance. In the 1930s, artists depicted desert landscapes in a realistic western pictorial manner. But by 1971, acrylic “dot paintings” arose in Central Australia as a style used to transmit traditional knowledge to non-Aboriginal people. For the first time, Aboriginal Australian artists were revealing designs that had traditionally been held in the utmost secrecy.

Our contemporary age is defined by globalization driven not only by the market, but also by displacement, diaspora, the movement of refugees, colonialism, and decolonization. This has thrown different cultures and worldviews into unprecedented contact and tension. Shaping these differences into meaningful connections has become one of the defining tenets of contemporary artists everywhere. It is the ability of these nine Aboriginal artists to speak across cultural boundaries while maintaining their distinctive identities that places them at the vanguard of global contemporary art practice.


No Boundaries: Aboriginal Australian Contemporary Abstract Painting originated at the Nevada Museum of Art in Reno, Nevada, and was organized by William Fox, Director, Center for Art and Environment, and scholar Henry Skerritt. The exhibition is drawn from the collection of Debra and Dennis Scholl. 

At the Johnson, this exhibition was organized by Andy Weislogel, the Seymour R. Askin, Jr. ’47 Curator, Earlier European and American Art. It was made possible by a generous gift endowed in memory of Elizabeth Miller Francis ’47, and has been supported in part by Dale Reis Johnson ’58 and Dick Johnson ’57.