How the art of the Aborigines came to the Swiss mountains


Lens Unique in Europe are location and collection focus. The Swiss Fondation Opals shows in Lens in the holiday area of ​​Crans-Montana a specific selection of their tribal art collection under the title: “Before Time Began”. The Frenchwoman Bérangère Primat, 46, founded the Fondation Opale and the private exhibition house last year to make her collection of Australian “Aboriginal Art” available to the public.

Away from the art trade centers and their commerce is the railway station Sierre, where the poet Rainer Maria Rilke once spent his last years, and at an altitude of 1,000 meters lies Lens. Here Primat erected a discrete glass building for the magnificent art of faraway Australia. Bérangère Primat itself lives not far away in Crans-Montana with a view of the impressive Alpine panorama.

Primat, her mother and her seven siblings are the heirs of Marcel Schlumberger after the death of his father, who invested in crude oil and real estate. The Primat family manages private assets estimated at 2.3 billion euros.

Start of the canvas painting

The exhibition “Before the Calendar” gives an overview of the development of indigenous art since the 1970s. This year, their commercialization begins.

The painting is based on the 40,000 years ago orally transmitted symbols of the indigenous people of Australia. Robbed by the English colonial rulers of their countries, the people living in the reserves fell ill in masses in the 1950s because of the British nuclear tests.

In the early 1970s, a teacher encouraged aboriginal deserters to transfer their drawings, previously written in the sand, to canvas using acrylic paints. In the wooded Australian north, however, tree bark was used as a base for animal and plant representations.

The Fondation Opale offers some examples of this figurative, beige-brown painting on bark. “The depictions are like X-rays, they represent the form and the interior,” explains the profound expert and curator of the Opale show, Georges Petitjean, technology and dual perspective.

Mick Kubarkku: “The ancestor crocodile”

Painted with natural ocher on tree bark.

(Photo: ProLitteris, Zurich; Crédit's photos © Vincent Girier-Dufournier)

In the center of Australia a painting that was completely abstract for European concepts emerged. For the long time as a nomadic living Aborigines made each other ways to water sources and storage areas, but also animal tracks and ritual sites with coded symbols known.

Among the eighty-five works of the exhibition, there are two colorful XXL formats that several women painted especially for the presentation in Lens. In addition, a group of men installed a kind of “whirlwind” of 1,500 spears that make up a hanging sculpture.

Most of the works on show are from the Bérengère Primat collection. Purchases of her former husband Arnaud Serval complement her. The latter is a collector, gallery owner and a good connoisseur of the Australian scene. In 2011 he had a part of his collection auctioned in Paris. The result was modest. Serval traveled with Bérangère Primat repeatedly to Australia, where the two bought separately in the painter cooperatives works of art.

First, the Aborigines paintings were sold to pay the hospital costs for dialysis of the then socially excluded Aborigines. This is what the curator of the Art Gallery of New South Wales in Sydney, Hetti Perkins, describes in her book “Art + Soul”. The sale of art gradually enabled a certain degree of integration. In addition, some painters have since become posthumously recognized stars, such as Emily Kam Ngwarray (1910-1996), who represented Australia in 1997 at the Venice Art Biennale.

The art of the natives at a glance

Known as the “Rainmaker”, Johnny Warangula Tjuppurrula (1925-2001) painted dream images of the water that typify the perfection of Australian art. Significant contributions were also made by John Mawurndjul (born 1952), to whom the Musée Tinguely in Basel organized a retrospective in 2005. He was one of the eight Australian painters who designed the ceiling paintings at the Musée du Quai Branly in Paris in 2005/06.

Another part of the collection of the cheerful, blond Bérangère primate will soon be shown at the Menil Museum in Houston. In addition, Galerie Gagosian latches into this art segment and redirects the international attention of art collectors to this collection area. In the spring of 2019, the Gagosian Gallery exhibited in New York, among others, Aboriginal Art from the collection of Steve Martin and his wife Anne Stringfield, plus works from the University of Virginia's Kluge-Ruhe collection.

And announces the definitive recognition of this market segment Sotheby's New York for the first time for the prestigious November session an Aboriginal Art auction in the “headquarters” in New York. So far Sotheby's auctioned this collection area in Melbourne and London. With these premises, the Australian art form receives its commercial nobility predicate.

More: Sammlung Klein: Read about a South German private collection in which the art of Australia plays an important role.

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