This week the Seattle Art Museum (SAM) opened the exhibition Ancestral Modern: Australian Aboriginal Art. The show presents work by Aboriginal Australians made from the 1970s through 2009, documenting the artistic renaissance of the world’s oldest living culture.
Although there is no word for art in Aboriginal languages, the creation and interpretation of drawings, paintings, and sculptures is deeply embedded in their culture. Aboriginal Australians are fluent in visual literacy and use art to transfer knowledge, stories, and spirituality from generation to generation. Because of the sacred nature of their art, it was often hidden from public view. However, in the last one hundred years, Aboriginal artists have chosen to share their artwork with wider audiences—sparking a contemporary art movement within Aboriginal communities.
The American collectors Margaret Levi and Robert Kaplan discovered this movement during their travels to Australia. They began their collection of Aboriginal art in the 1980s with the goal to introduce the movement to the canon of world art. Ancestral Modern is the first showing of the Kaplan and Levi Collection in a major museum in the United States.
Marquand Books produced the catalogue Ancestral Modern. The 176-page book, designed by John Hubbard, includes detailed entries for selected works and features more than one hundred color illustrations. Essays by curators Pamela McClusky, Wally Caruana, Lisa Graziose Corrin, and Stephen Gilchrist illuminate the history and creation of contemporary Aboriginal art.