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Australian Aboriginal Art, 2

June 30, 2012 Leave a comment

Waarlla, Billy Thomas, 1998, Natural pigments on canvas

A month ago, Gail and I attended the opening of Ancestral Modern: Australian Aboriginal Art from the Kaplan & Levi Collection at the Seattle Art Museum. I wrote about the exhibition at the time, quoting from the website:

With more than 100 works created from 1970 through 2009, the exhibition showcases what has been called the artistic renaissance of the world’s oldest living culture.

And:

Welcome to visions of the long haul and big picture of our existence on Earth. Finally, after over 50,000 years of making art, we are able to see what the oldest continuous culture on the planet has in mind. Isn’t it about time? This art takes us into immense deserts and shimmering billabongs, into night skies and underground.

It is an aesthetic pleasure unlike any other. Utilizing contemporary mediums, these artists adapt visual languages that evolved over centuries. What may look abstract is full of symbols and stories that take on common human dilemmas—greed, desire, the search for nourishment, and punishment of deceit. Most often, this art offers veneration of the lands that are in their care and the founding ancestors who continue to provide direction.

I wrote that “we didn’t go through the galleries in any systematic way or read the signs. We simply got an overview, examining a few pieces that we especially liked, and happily anticipated an extended return visit.” When offered the opportunity to join curator Pam McClusky for a tour, we accepted.

Yes, this is the same Pam McClusky whose tour of the Central Asian ikat exhibition at the Seattle Asian Art Museum we went on just a week earlier. She’s been busy, serving as co-curator of the Gauguin show at SAM a few months ago, the ikat show at SAAM, and the aboriginal show, each overlapping with one of the others. We’ve been dutiful followers, hearing her speak at all three openings, visiting the Gauguin show before regular opening hours as she led a high school group through the space, and most recently taking these tours with her.

At the outset of the aboriginal tour, I followed Pam’s narrative closely, as we spent 35 minutes in just the first three rooms. She provided valuable background on aboriginal art, specific artists, their paintings, and what the paintings represented. I realized, as somehow I had failed to on opening night, that many of the paintings were dream representations. This is hardly news. It’s prominently highlighted on the exhibition website:

The Dreaming encompasses the cosmologies and belief systems of Aboriginal societies, and it also provides the great themes of their art.

Regarding the painting at the top of the post, we learn from the exhibition website that

Billy Thomas paints a warning sign filled with impasto circles about Waarlla. He calls it a very significant sacred place where rockholes are abundant and serve as burial or Dreaming sites. It is set apart from the country which he says is “flat like an airport” and when big rains come, they fill the rockholes with fresh water. If you are traveling in this area, however, he warns that you should go “right around” this convergence of rockholes.

And then there’s this example,

Wati Kutjarra (Two Brothers Dreaming), Tjumpo Tjapanangka, 2004, Synthetic polymer paint on canvas

[Susan Cole]

about which the website tells us:

Two brothers created land forms and models of behavior that appear in many narratives of the Western Desert. In this painting, they have created a vast salt-encrusted lake known as Wilkinkarra (Lake Mackay). Tjumpo Tjapanangka reminds us of their presence by gently inserting two vertical lines at the top and bottom to indicate where the brothers camped. Across the middle is a white line where they built a protective windbreak. His formal symmetry reflects the ordered nature of ancestral creation. Known for walking vast distances himself, the artist’s work is committed to his custodianship of these epics and the sites that he grew up in.

Pam didn’t actually discuss these two paintings. I include them because they are available on the website, and because they give a sense of what we learned. What they don’t do is represent the work of aboriginal women, on which Pam focused in the first rooms.

As striking as the art is and as wonderful as Pam is, about halfway through I began to lose my focus. I don’t know what my problem was. The format? By which I mean, here are twenty or twenty-five of us (the numbers would continually shift, with uninvited interlopers joining for a room or two) walking from room to room, and time and again I was forced to squeeze past tour members who first entered a room and planted themselves just past the doorway because that’s where Pam stopped, ending up at the back as a result, only to find myself in front of the next painting on Pam’s itinerary, requiring a circling maneuver to get out of the way. Standing and more standing and more standing, staring at those who grabbed a free bench and wondering whether to join them. Glancing at the painting at hand while Pam talked about the one twenty feet away, wondering whether to go off and see more of the exhibition without guidance.

Before I knew it, my mind was elsewhere. At one point I was thinking through a revision to a book I’m working on, looking forward to getting to the office to carry it out, taking a peek ahead to see how many more rooms there were, estimating how long we might spend in each.

Maybe a half hour overview from Pam would have been sufficient, followed by touring on our own. An extended return visit is still in order.

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Categories: Art, Museums

Prologue

June 30, 2012 Leave a comment

Liège

[From the Tour website Prologue page]

The Tour has begun. Which means you know what I’ll be doing on waking up for the next three weeks. There’s life without the Tour, and there’s Tour Life. I like both, but Tour Life is better. For one thing, I get to be reunited with my Tour buddies, Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen. They’re such good company.

Watching the Tour is mesmerizing, as Phil and Paul chat non-stop about the goings-on while the race cameras move this way and that: race leaders, breakaways, the peloton, cities, villages, countryside, odd displays made of hay or tractors. Not to be missed, as well, are the concluding race festivities. The honoring of the stage winner. Podium girls. Cycling great Bernard Hinault directing the ceremony. (Check Bernard’s facial expression as he greets the winner. What does he really think of the guy?) Helicopter shots of the finishing town. The river. Back to the podium. Awarding the appropriate-colored shirt to the leader overall or points leader or climbing leader or youth leader. Podium girls. Bernard again. A rotating view of the town’s main cathedral. Another jersey recipient. Podium girls. Bernard. A cliffside fortress above the river. An overview of tomorrow’s stage, in plan and elevation views. Closing credits played across highlights of the day’s stage.

Emptiness.

The long wait for another day.

The Tour typically opens with a short stage called the Prologue, often held in a neighboring country rather than France. Today the Tour visited the Belgian city of Liège for a short time trial, a mere 6.4 km long. In a time trial, the riders are sent off one at a time, competing against the clock rather than each other. The start order for later time trials is determined by the overall classification, with the best riders going at the end in reverse order of their standings. For an opening time trial, the defending champion gets pride of place. So it was that Aussie Cadel Evans went off last. The penultimate starter was the great Swiss time trialist Fabian Cancellara, winner of four previous Tour prologues. He didn’t disappoint, winning today’s by 7 seconds over overall race co-favorite Bradley Wiggins and Sylvain Chavanel, with race co-favorite Evans another 10 seconds back in 13th. Small time differences in terms of the overall picture.

Tomorrow we stay in Belgium for a long ride, heading out from Liège into the Ardennes on a route featuring several small climbs, then back to Seraing, just outside Liège for a closing uphill finish. It’s not an ideal day for the sprinters. Perhaps a breakaway can succeed. Monday may be the first day for the sprinters to show their form.

Speaking of sprinters, I am, of course, a huge fan of Manxman Mark Cavendish. And then there’s our local (Washington State) star, Tyler Farrar, perhaps Cavendish’s strongest rival. Alas, many riders this year are looking past the Tour to the Olympics, so we may not see them at their best. Cavendish has said as much. Nonetheless, I’ll be watching.

Categories: Cycling

Conservation Photography

June 30, 2012 Leave a comment

The 2012 International Conservation Photography Awards exhibit had its members opening last night at the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture. Regarding the awards themselves, the ICPA website explains:

Known for his passionate advocacy of the environment, nature photographer Art Wolfe created a conservation-themed photo contest in 1997 as “an event for the advancement of photography as a unique medium capable of bringing awareness and preservation to our environment through art.”

The 2012 International Conservation Photography Awards is a continuation of Art Wolfe’s vision and has become a biennial (every two years) international event.

Gail and I arrived early, walked through the exhibit, then joined our friend Kai at the Flair Taco food truck — parked outside the museum by special arrangement for the convenience of attendees — where we obtained an excellent light dinner. We finished eating in time to return to the lobby for the special program, with remarks by museum director Julie Stein and ICP director Chris Gorley. Some 20 award recipients were on hand for the evening and introduced themselves. Many were local; some were from a little farther away, such as British Columbia, Calfornia, Calgary; one came from Kenya.

I wouldn’t be a good judge. All the photographs looked great to me, from the two distinguished award winners to the honorable mentions. Show me a close-up of an animal, eyes aglow, and I’ll be happy. Such as the arctic loon with enormous head that was first place in my book, though it was in fact just honorably mentioned. (It’s in this slideshow.) Or the snowy owl shot by great bird photographer Paul Bannick, which in fact did win one of the two overall show awards. (You can see it here along with the other distinguished award winner, Stefano Pesarelli’s flamingos.)

By all means enjoy the on-line slideshows for the different award categories But better yet, if you’re in the area, head to the Burke and see the stunning prints. You have until November 25.

Categories: Museums