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Art Gallery of South Australia Presents Desert Country

The first exhibition to chart the evolution of Australia’s most influential art movement is showing at the Art Gallery of South Australia, through 26 January 2011.

Desert Country reveals the extraordinary development of the Australian desert painting movement and the flourishing cross-cultural relationships between Aboriginal artists working in the desert regions of South Australia, Western Australia and the Northern Territory.

Nura Rupert, Australia, c.1933. Pitjantjatjara people, South Australia, Mamu (Spooky spirits) 2002, Ernabella, South Australia, synthetic polymer paint on linen 92.0 x 122.0 cm. Ed and Sue Tweddell Fund for South Australian Contemporary Art 2006. Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide © Nura Rupert, Courtesy of Ernabella Arts

Through 100 dynamic paintings, Desert Country showcases the enormous diversity of desert art, from the exquisite watercolours of Albert Namatjira, to the ground-breaking canvases of the Papunya Tula artists, and the latest stunning works to emerge from the APY Lands.

Among the highlights are the profoundly powerful works by Pitjantjatjara artists, mapping the devastated lands which they were forced to vacate during the atomic bomb and rocket testing of the 1950s.

All the works on display in Desert Country are drawn entirely from the extensive holdings of Aboriginal art from the Art Gallery of South Australia. More than a third of the paintings are new acquisitions which are being shown for the first time publicly.

The Desert Country exhibition continues the Art Gallery of South Australia’s pioneering tradition in the area of Indigenous art. The Gallery was the first cultural institution to purchase a work by an Indigenous artist (Albert Namatjira in 1939) and in 1981, became the first to start collecting western desert ‘dot’ painting.

Art Gallery of South Australia Director Nick Mitzevich says “Without a doubt, desert painting is Australia’s single most significant contribution to the art world and it deserves to be celebrated. I am very proud that the Art Gallery of South Australia is continuing to lead the way in the promotion of Aboriginal art, by being the first to document the rise of the desert art movement.”

Nici Cumpston, the curator of the exhibition, hopes that beyond its artistic goals, the exhibition will also be a step forward to improved race relations with the wider Australian community. “Desert Country allows us into an ancient existence and to witness history through the contemporary art of the oldest living culture in the world. Taking the time to learn the stories behind the paintings is one of the ways that enables us all to understand this culture and to enhance our respect for it”, she says.

The Desert Country exhibition, public programs, catalogue and national tour are made possible thanks to the substantial sponsorship of leading energy company, Santos; the Principal Partner of the Gallery’s Indigenous collection. Thanks to Santos, children and fulltime students visiting the exhibition receive free entry. Santos is also presenting the Celebration Day on Saturday 30 October, offering free exhibition admission for every visitor on the day as well as entertainment and artists’ talks.

The exhibition will go on tour in 2011 and 2012, travelling to regional Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland and Western Australia.

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