Friday, July 22, 2016

a visit to the kluge-ruhe aboriginal art collection

Some time ago, while doing some research for an art lesson focusing on the work of the Australian Aboriginal people, I learned that there was a museum which housed the largest collection of Aboriginal art in the United States, essentially in my own back yard! The Kluge-Rhue, was named after its founder John W. Kluge, an American businessman and avid collector, and Professor Edward L. Ruhe, whose own collection and archives were purchased by Kluge in 1993. The museum itself is located on the scenic University of Virginia campus, in Charlottesville, VA. 

As our third and final big stop in the Charlottesville, VA area, Kris and I were excited to explore the Kluge-Ruhe and its current exhibits, as this was something I had been looking forward to for quite a while now. The building itself is a beautiful, large white house, with plenty of space and natural and track-lighting for displaying a wide variety of art forms. As part of the UVA campus, a visit to the museum is also free to the public, while donations are accepted. The current exhibits displayed both contemporary and more traditional styles of Australian Aboriginal art.

The first exhibit we encountered was a selection of works from the Kluge-Rhue's permanent collection, called Art and Country. The overall theme of the exhibit focused on the artists and their connection to the land and their people, through their work. There was a wide array of styles and approaches to the theme on display, from photography and sculpture, to lino-cuts, as well as more traditional drawings and paintings, drawing from artistic approaches both modern and ancient, and somewhere in-between. The exhibit will last through the summer.

Another exhibit at the Kluge-Rhue featured the works of one of Australia's oldest living contemporary artists, Loongkoonan, who at the age of 95, began her artistic journey by painting at an arts workshop in Derby. At 105 years old, Loongkoonan's work has received numerous prestigious awards and is housed in quite a few collections, including the Australian Parliament House, and the Department of Indigenous Affairs in Canberra. Loongkoonan's paintings are alive with bright, vivid color and layers of patterns, both raw and sophisticated, capturing and reflecting her love of the land in which she grew up in. Her work is a testimony to the spirit and resilience of the Aboriginal people, and proof that it's never too late to make one's mark in the world. 

Upon examining the work of some of Australia's contemporary, living Aboriginal artists throughout some of the museum's halls, there was a brief but powerful downpour outside, forcing Kris and I to spend some quality time exploring the Kluge-Rhue's library study and archives. It was such a peaceful place to be, and I could have spent all day in this room. My only regret was forgetting to bring a sketchbook and some pens. 

Throughout there grounds, there is also the newly displayed Yarning History Exhibition. Due to the rain and heat, we didn't get much of a chance to look at this as closely as we wanted to. The good news is, the Yarning will remain up through mid-September. 

It was so good to finally get to see the treasure of art that is the Kluge-Rhue in person, and it still amazes me that something this special is only a short day-trip away! The photos in this post only capture a small portion of what's going on at the Kluge-Rhue, and it is highly recommended that any art-lovers make the trip out to see this amazing collection in person.