Emily Kame Kngwarreye at the NGA

The Alhalkere Suite (1993)

An unexpected thing happened last Sunday as I went through the Indigenous Galleries at the National Gallery of Australia – the NGA.

I was on the way to see the special exhibition in the project galleries, The National Picture, The Art Of Tasmania’s Black War – more on that in another post.

I walked into one of the main galleries for Indigenous Art and came across the recently re-hung major work by Emily Kame Kngwarreye, The Alhalkere Suite (1993). This was a surprise.

I think the last time I saw this work was when it was first exhibited at the NGA back in the mid 1990s. I remember being stunned by it. It was something new. It was beautiful.

I had frequently seen photographs of it in the years between then and now – and fully appreciated how well it had been received by others.

This time as I walked in and realised quickly what I was seeing again, and then something strange happened.

I was not so impressed. My first reaction was that I thought it looked tired or somehow less than stunning from what I had remembered. Was it the low and almost dull lighting? (note – The colours look brighter in my photograph).

Was it that as I looked around at the other works in the room  – and thought that they were doing something this Emily’s work was no longer doing?

I was puzzled and took my time to sit, to wander around the room, to look at the other works and returned several times to stand in from of Emily’s grand work. I sat down on the edge of the bench and pondered.

I think the guards were becoming concerned that I was taking so much time and that I kept coming back to the same spot in front of The Alhalkere Suite.

I stood back and realised that maybe the work was not as coherent as I had thought earlier – and maybe there have been many more works by Emily that I know I still admire (I hope).

I looked around the room several times to see if the famous suite of paintings, being hung at one of the room, was now in competition with other works that were on either side and now seemed much stronger.

This was an unexpected event. It still puzzles me. I will need to go back again and see what happens next time.

After 10 minutes or more – I left and went on to visit the The National Picture.

Watch this space for my comments.

 

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