Chazen Museum of Art


Ancestral Modern: Australian Aboriginal Art from the Kaplan & Levi Collection

January 26 to April 22 | Pleasant T. Rowland Galleries

Ancestral Modern: Australian Aboriginal Art from the Kaplan & Levi Collection

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.

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. 

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

Free Public Programs

Thursday, January 25, 2018: Lecture and Reception

Thursday, February 1, 2018: Ancestral Modern inspired film

  • 7 p.m. Walkabout, Australia, 1971, 35mm, 95 min. Chazen Auditorium

Saturday, February 10, 2018: ART•SPIN Community Day

  • 12–3 p.m. Learn more about the arts of Australia and experiment with painting on rocks, bark, and other materials to create colorful works of art inspired by indigenous traditions. Mead Witter Lobby

Thursday, February 15, 2018: Didgeridoo Concert

  • 6–7:30 p.m. Spring Dreaming—Stories for Didgeridoo and Percussion, An Evening with Stephen Kent. Chazen Auditorium

Thursday, March 8, 2018: Ancestral Modern inspired film

  • 7 p.m. The Tracker, Australia, 2002, 35mm, 98 min. Chazen Auditorium

Thursday, April 12, 2018: Docent tours

  • 6–8 p.m. Docent-led tours of Ancestral Modern and hands-on art activities. In collaboration with the 4W Summit on Women, Gender, and Wellbeing. Mead Witter Lobby.

Friday, April 13, 2018: 4W Summit on Women, Gender, and Wellbeing panel discussion

  • 2–3:15 p.m. Our Bodies, Our Land: Rainbow Serpent, Dreaming, Corroborree and Aboriginal Feminism. Chazen Auditorium

Tommy Mitchell (Ngaanyatjarra people, Warakurna, Southwestern Deserts, Western Australia, 1943–2013)
Walu, 2008
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas, 40 x 60 in.
Promised gift of Margaret Levi and Robert Kaplan to the Seattle Art Museum, T2011.55.51, © Tommy Mitchell Courtesy American Federation of Arts.

[Ned Grant (born 1942), Kali Davis (dates unknown), Ian Rictor (born ca. 1962), Lawrence Pennington (dates unknown), Frank Davis (dates unknown), Fred Grant (born 1941), Gerome Anderson (1940–2011), Wilbur Brooks (dates unknown), Simon Hogan (born 1930), Mark Anderson (born 1933), Roy Underwood (born 1937), Walter Hansen (dates unknown), Loren Pennington (dates unknown), Cyril Brown (dates unknown), Alan Jamieson (dates unknown), Lennard Walker (born 1949), and Byron Brooks (born 1955)] Spinifex Men’s Collaborative, established 1997 Pitjantjatjara people, Tjuntjuntjara, Southwestern Deserts, Western Australia
Wati Kutjara (Two Men Story), 2003
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas, 82 11/16 x 74 13/16 in.
Promised gift of Margaret Levi and Robert Kaplan, in honor of the 75th Anniversary of the Seattle Art Museum © Spinifex Men’s Collaborative, photo by Susan Cole Courtesy American Federation of Arts.

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