I figured this would be a GREAT piece to blog about on Earth Day 2020!
Art Historical Background
First off, this piece is HUGE!!! Like 20 feet wide and 9 feet high! So take a moment to imagine what it would be like to stand in front of this artwork and experience it first-hand. Woah. Kngwarreye’s pieces certainly share elements with other Abstract Expressionists (although she knew really nothing of the 20th century art world). Her pieces are large, like Jackson Pollock or Willem de Kooning (de Kooning’s Woman II is in the AP Art History 250), and therefore required the full body to paint. Kngwarreye laid the canvas on the floor and painted while seated (as opposed to Jackson Pollock’s “stand and splash” method).
Something I find fascinating of the art world in the 20th & 21st centuries is the amount of “non-white” artists *finally* getting recognition. Kngwarreye was an Australian Aborigine, from the Anmatyerr people, with very little contact with the “outside” world (aka “us”). She lived in a fairly remote region of Australia, called Utopia, and really did not start creating large-scale art until her seventies with no formal training. And boy did she pump them out! It’s estimated that Kngwarreye made about a piece a day for 8 years totalling at about 3,000 works! I love that the expansion of the art world is now allowing artists like Kngwarreye to get recognition, when they would have been traditionally excluded from the salons of the 19th century. Mirroring the expansion of the elitist artworld, her lifespan (1910-1996) also matches a global wave of decolonization and re-appreciation of First Peoples and other minority groups.
Fun fact: This piece was sold in 2015 for over $2 million dollars – the highest price ever for a work by a female artist in Australia (this record actually broke Kngwarreye’s previous $1 million dollar sale price for the same piece in 2007).
The subject of Kgnwarreye’s pieces come from her Aboriginal background & their community relationship with the land. This particular painting, Earth’s Creation, is a depiction of “green time,” the period following the rainy season in which when things were in full bloom. Her art does not include figures such as animals or people, but are mean to be deeply rooted in the environment and the Aboriginal tradition known as “Dreaming.” Dreamtime represents the period when the Ancestral Spirits roamed the over the land, before humans, and created life and the geographic formations of the earth. But the Dreaming is not just in the past (the Aboriginal languages do not have a word for “time”); it is always present just in another “dimension” so to speak. It is believed that the ancestor spirits can communicate with modern humans through the landscape because they are literally a part of it, forever connected. So as you can see, a deep relationship with the land is spiritually significant to Aboriginal peoples (as it is with many First Peoples or indigenous groups). Kgnwarreye’s work, unlike Monet, is not just a landscape painting portraying what she sees; it is a deeply rooted connection to the land of her ancestors, origin, and place in the world.
AP Art History Course Content (2019)
Topic 10.2: Purpose and Audience in Global Contemporary Art
Enduring Understanding: A variety of purposes may affect art and art making, and those purposes may include, but are not limited to, intended audience, patron, artistic intention, and/ or function. Differing situations and contexts may influence the artist, patron, or intended audience, with functions sometimes changing over time, and therefore affecting the role these different variables may play in art and art making.
Learning Objective: Explain how purpose, intended audience, or patron affect art and art making.
Essential Knowledge: Diverse art forms are considered according to perceived similarities in form, content, and artistic intent over broad themes, which include existential investigations and sociopolitical critiques, as well as reflections on the natural world, art’s history, popular and traditional cultures, and technological innovation.
Essential Knowledge: The worldwide proliferation of contemporary art museums, galleries, biennials and triennials, exhibitions, and print and digital publications has created numerous, diverse venues for the presentation and evaluation of art in today’s world.
- Khan Academy: Emily Kame Kngwarreye, Earth’s Creation
- National Museum Australia: Emily Kame Kngwarreye
- Artlink: Emily Kame Kngwarreye: The impossible modernist
- The Metropolitan Museum, Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History: Australia, 1900 A.D. – present
- National Gallery of Australia: Emily Kame Kngwarreye, Alhalkere, Paintings from Utopia
- Artlandish: Aboriginal Dreaming
- SBS Turkish: Aboriginal art $2.1m auction breaks record
- Google Arts & Culture: Earth’s Creation
- MBANTUA: Earth’s Creation – The Million Dollar Painting!
Next up: #235. Rebellious Silence, from the Women of Allah series Shirin Neshat (artist); photo by Cynthia Preston. 1994 ce. Ink on photograph.