Getting straight: Exhibit answers common question
When I last visited the Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal art gallery, I was accosted by a short, fuzzy-headed woman clearly in thrall to a certain object in the exhibit.
“Would you like to know how the Aboriginal people tracked the morning star?” she asked, and then, when I didn’t reply, answered her own question in a rambling monologue that was almost entirely incoherent, segueing somehow from morning stars to Aboriginal concepts of heaven and hell, and then ending awkwardly with several robust refrains of “That’s fascinating.”
This strange little gallery troll apparently couldn’t leave that particular area, but I escaped by moving to an adjacent room. She had by then ensnared another victim, and as I listened through the wall to an equally incoherent explication punctuated by weak protests, it occurred to me that she couldn’t be blamed for her confusion. To visit the Kluge-Ruhe without any context to help sort one’s thoughts might indeed be a daunting experience.
After all, the artwork the gallery typically displays does not fall into any easy category or context. First, the work in the exhibits tends to be contemporary— the objects are not strictly archeological or natural history artifacts. And while much of the work hasn’t moved too far from its utilitarian or ceremonial origins, it’s clear that much of it was created not for function, per se, but with the same kinds of techniques and aesthetics as works of art.
So it really isn’t exactly like a modern art museum, either. For the most part, it falls somewhere in between.
In one of two current exhibits, the Kluge-Ruhe attempts to provide a bit of context for the kinds of things the gallery features, which is a welcome development. This exhibit, “Object Lessons,” poses a series of questions– all related to the artwork on display– and goes on to answer them on panels placed among the objects themselves.
“How are dreaming ancestors depicted in Aboriginal art?” “What happens at an Aboriginal Funeral?” The answers to these types of questions go a long way to explain how Aborigines translate very concrete details– such as tribal histories and memories of dead ancestors– into what appear to be abstract designs, rich with earth-tone dots, circles, and clover shapes, and then take that aesthetic and transfer it to the canvas.
Well prepared after a swing through “Object Lessons,” gallery visitors are in fine shape for a trip through the Kluge-Ruhe’s concurrent exhibit, “Manguri Weaving.” Most of the baskets and woven objects on display have been created without the burden of function. Some come in odd shapes; others have been strung through with colored yarn, beetle-sized beads, and feathers. But they do have very functional ancestors. This exhibit, typical for the Kluge-Ruhe– offers the dual pleasure of cultural history and modern creativity.
“Object Lessons,” an exhibit which answers frequently asked questions about Aboriginal art, and “Manguri Weaving,” a touring exhibition of weavings by women of the central and western deserts is on view through August 16 at the Kluge-Ruhe, 400 Peter Jefferson Place, off Route 250 East at Pantops. 244-0234.