Painting Culture: The Making of an Aboriginal High Art
|Author:||Fred R. Myers|
Painting Culture tells the complex story of how, over the past three decades, the acrylic "dot" paintings of central Australia were transformed into objects of international high art, eagerly sought by upscale galleries and collectors. Since the early 1970s, Fred R. Myers has studied--often as a participant-observer--the Pintupi, one of several Aboriginal groups who paint the famous acrylic works. Describing their paintings and the complicated cultural issues they raise, Myers looks at the ways the paintings represent Aboriginal people and their culture, and how their heritage is translated into exchangeable values. He tracks the way these paintings become high art as they move outward from indigenous communities through and among other social institutions--the world of dealers, museums, critics. At the same time, he shows how this change in the status of the acrylic paintings is directly related to the initiative of the painters themselves, representing their hopes for new levels of recognition.Painting Culture describes in detail the actual practice of painting, insisting that such a focus is necessary to engage directly with the role of the art in the lives of contemporary Aboriginals. The book includes a unique "local art history, " a study of the complete corpus of two painters over a two-year period. It also explores the awkward local issues around the valuation and sale of the acrylic paintings, traces the shifting approaches of the Australian government and key organizations such as the Aboriginal Arts Board to the promotion of the work, and describes the early and subsequent phases of the works' inclusion in major Australian and international exhibitions. Myers provides an account of some of the events related to these exhibits, most notably the Asia Society's 1988 "Dreamings" show in New York, which was so pivotal in bringing the work to North American notice. He also traces the approaches and concerns of dealers, ranging from semi-tourist outlets in Alice Springs to more prestigious venues in Sydney and Melbourne.With its innovative approach to the transnational circulation of culture, this book will appeal to art historians, as well as those in cultural anthropology, cultural studies, museum studies, and performance studies.
"Years before its much-awaited publication, Painting Culture had cast its shadow, like some spectre of mingled threat and promise, across the fractious institutions of the Australian art market. Word, from time to time, would scurry around: Fred Myers, the renouned, long-silent American anthropologist who knew everything about the Centre, was writing a book that would be definitive--the necessary account of Western Desert Aboriginal art, its origins and trajectory, its marketing, its flowering and contemporary fate... Here, at last, it is, brought to the light of day by theory-loving Duke University Press, clotted with radical insights and festooned with praise from leading lights in the anthropological world... These rich, closely observed passages in Painting Culture are unique explorations of intent and virtuosity among the first-generation Pintupi painters; they have a wondrously persuasive, interlocking tone of detail."--Nicolas Rothwell, The Australian "Through detailed discussion of the controversial spaces of Aboriginal art, meaning and identity in a white-dominated settler society, Painting Culture entangles the histories of all contemporary Australians, outlining the possibility of a future in which the original inhabitants of this nation have power, respect, their identity and land, and the best wishes of all folk. It is truly amazing how such simple things as some beautiful paintings on canvas boards can embody such brilliant hopes and aspirations for the future of Aboriginal people in Australia. But they do, and Myers's book traces the historical agencies behind this sense of power and hope in contemporary Aboriginal painting culture superbly."--Adam Brumm, Australian Journal of Politics and History "[A] major book on the social processes involved in the establishment of Pintupi painting as art for a global market... The book is a key text for those interested in the anthropology of art..."--Luke Taylor, Australian Journal of Anthropology "One of the many virtues of this book is its vigorous review of the literature that informs the analysed data... Painting Culture reminds us of the rich and subtle virtues of scholarship that engages its material with meditative and patient eye. Here is a challenging book about a sensational subject, which has avoided the twin demons of shallow journalistic imperative and disaffected, disengaged academic obscuration. This is a landmark contribution to the subject of Aboriginal art."--Francoise Dussart, Anthropological Forum "Theoretically, this book is state-of-the field, engaging frequently with prominent analysts of cultural dynamics... [T]his book bears the fruit of sustained ethnographic commitment of a sort that is becoming increasingly rare in anthropology... Painting Culture makes a monumental contribution to understandings of the cultural, political, and economic dimensions of an increasingly globalized world."--Sally Price, American Anthropologist "Myers is well suited to the task of nuancing the intersection of anthropology and art... One of the strengths of Myers analysis is that precisely because he does not take his subject as already constructed, complete, and self-evident, his narrative is a compelling read, as well as a detailed analysis of a complex cultural scenario."--Diane Losche, Social Analysis "[R]ich, detailed description and penetrating thoughtful analysis... [T]he book delivers on its implicit promise to make it worth one's while to learn about all of that background and pays off in a deep understanding of how art gets to be art... Most of all, Myers's book shows that there is just no substitute for solid fieldwork."--Howard S. Becker, American Ethnologist Listed in Art Bulletin and Ethnos. Mixed review in The Australian. Whitehead, Dark Shamans Feature ran in On Wisconsin, Univ. Wisconsin alumni magazine. Interviewed on Wisconsin Public Radio's "Here On Earth" and "University On Air." Mentioned on a cannibalism web site. Reviewed in Latin American Research Review. Abstracts in The C.A.C. Review, newsletter of the Caribbean Amerindian Centrelink and Hispanic Outlook on Higher Education. Listed in Journal of Ritual Studies, New Mexico Historical Review, CHE, TLS Book Alert email, Journal of the American Academy of Religion. Abstract in Contemporary Sociology, Ethnos, and Kacicke. Mixed review in Australian Journal of Anthropology. Reviewed in French in Anthropologies et Societes.