Ancestral Modern: Australian Aboriginal Art From the Kaplan & Levi Collection
Blanton Museum of Art, June 3 – September 9
by Neal Baker
Of all the art forms still in existence today, that of Aboriginal Australians is the oldest. Dating back tens of thousands of years, their culture has withstood the passage of time and imposition of an empire – the same forces that eventually eroded similarly ancient civilizations. And thanks to their own successful efforts to revive their artistic traditions, this same cultural lineage is reaching out to touch such faraway places as Austin.
Of course the Blanton is no history museum. “Ancestral Modern: Australian Aboriginal Art From the Kaplan & Levi Collection” runs through September 9 and exhibits a selection of contemporary Aboriginal works that prove that this ages-old culture is many things: rich, evolving, relevant. At first glance from an outside perspective, the style is immediately stimulating. Countless individual marks — usually dots or distinct brushstrokes — compose dense forms on bold backgrounds. Many of the same reds, yellows, and whites of clay and ochre lend their colors to these works, as they did years and years ago. The few recognizable figures are those of the occasional person or animal. But these works are far from what we could justifiably describe as abstract. They are full of maps, symbols, and narratives that remain mostly unintelligible to all but those who belong to the culture and whose history is embodied here. For all the strides made toward the visibility of Aboriginal people, some secrets are to remain hidden.