Sunday, October 9, 2022

Steve Martin and Collecting Australian Aboriginal Art

The excitement of collecting for a museum is vividly recounted by Tom Hoving in “The Chase, The Capture: Collecting at the Metropolitan” that accompanied an exhibition of the Metropolitan Museum’s acquisitions 1965-75, Together with various curators he wrote of the need to haunt auction houses, visit dealers regularly and pay personal attention to potential donors. He also loved to lecture on the thrill of the successful pursuit.

Similar adrenalin must run in the veins of actor/author Steve Martin as I discovered in an article by Sarah Cascone in Artnet News. Martin and his wife Anne Stringfield are lending 6 Aboriginal paintings from their 50 that they have collected since 2015 for a small exhibition currently at the National Arts Club in New York called “Selections from Australia’s Western Desert”.

There are some fine points but to make it simple, Aboriginal artists are to Australia what Indigenous Peoples are in the United States and Canada. The field is not well represented outside Australia although there is one museum collection in this country devoted to collecting art in this area, The Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. Of its 1,800 works 1,600 were donated by the John W. Kluge in 1998, the product of the late media mogul’s passionate collecting.

Steve Martin has long been known in the art world as an important collector. He has said he particularly collects 19th and 20th century art since it is so difficult to buy great Old Masters today. A few of the artists in his collection are Edward Hopper, Giorgio Morandi, David Hockney and Andy Warhol.

In 2019 Martin/Stringfield exhibited 10 of their Aboriginal paintings at the Gagosian Gallery in New York. Larry Gagosian has 17 galleries around the world from Beverly Hills to London and from Paris to Hong Kong. When Gagosian has an exhbition it has influence beyond his domain. Covering that show, the culture reporter for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), Michaela Boland stated “Desert Painters of Australia will be one of Gagosian's regular non-selling exhibitions held as a way of influencing tastes, expanding art collecting and testing the market.” This image is from Gagosian’s exhibition.

Bolan wrote of Steve Martin’s history of collecting in the field: “Four years before, he had read a New York Times article about an exhibition of Western Desert painter Warlimpirrnga Tjapaltjarri's artworks on display in New York and by the end of that day he'd acquired one for his home”. Quote from Martin, "I'd truly never seen anything like it before. I still have it hanging in the house."

Martin returned to that initial Warlimpirrnga Tjapaltjarri acquisition in the recent interview with Ms. Gascone, “We hung it, we loved it… we found that there is a whole culture around these paintings, and slowly, through osmosis, I began to learn more and more.” Here is another painting from the collection.

That is exactly the way my wife and I became serious collectors of Native, read indigenous, American Indigenous art. Discovering new areas in which to collect is, in my experience, one of the most exciting adventures one can have. It allows one to discover new cultures and gives a sense of discovery and victory when you land your targeted work of art.

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