Nyapanyapa Yunupingu’s White Painting

Detail of Nyapanyapa Yunupingu’s “White Painting” (2010). Earth pigments on bark

“I do beautiful neat paintings and work. I do paintings, all of it, not with any other colors, like black, only with the white one…I didn’t do trees, rocks or anything else, not at all…I only made designs. My father didn’t teach me, I learnt it myself. I saw my father’s hands painting and then my father said, ‘I want you to do this, my daughter, to work this way. To paint as you are watching my hands.’ He painted as I watched him. As he did this he said, ‘You will do this in the future my daughter.’ The painting I did was my own and I haven’t made any mistakes, none. My lines aren’t tangled and messy, not at all.”–Nyapanyapa Yunupingu

This work is on view in Marking the Infinite: Contemporary Women Artists from Aboriginal Australia through September 9, 2018.

Meet the Marking the Infinite Artists: Nonggirrnga Marawili

In this series, we introduce the nine artists behind Marking the Infinite: Contemporary Women Artists from Aboriginal Australia, on view at The Phillips Collection June 2 – September 9, 2018.

Installation view of work by Nonggirrnga Marawili in Marking the Infinite. Photo: Lee Stalsworth

Born c. 1939, Darrpirra, Northern Territory
Lives and works at Yirrkala, Northern Territory

Nonggirrnga Marawili was born into the Madarrpa, one of the approximately 20 clans composing the Yolngu people in Arnhem Land, the sparsely populated northeastern tip of the Northern Territory, which consists almost entirely of Aboriginal lands. Marawili learned to paint while assisting her husband Djutadjuta Mununggurr, an artist and leader of another Yolngu clan, the Djapu. During the 1990s, she contributed many important commissions and exhibitions of Yolngu art, but it was only after 2011 that she emerged as one of the preeminent figures in contemporary bark painting. In 2015, she was awarded the prestigious bark painting prize at the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards. Recently, she was selected for inclusion in the 2017 National Indigenous Art Triennial at the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra.

Guarding Renoir

Image courtesy of The Phillips Collection

My first day working as a Museum Assistant at The Phillips Collection happened to be the opening of Renoir and Friends. By some administrative fluke, or perhaps as a test, I was assigned to guard the pride and joy of the collection and the centerpiece of the show, Luncheon of the Boating Party.

Renoir has become a bit of a divisive artist in the art world. Beloved by much of the general public, he is remembered by his detractors for cloying pastels, mushy vegetation, and vaguely voyeuristic nudes. In some circles, Renoir has come to stand for “easy art”—the type of art for people who don’t know much about art. This attitude even made its way into mainstream media when, in 2015, art students protesting Renoir’s art, picketed outside the MFA in Boston holding signs proclaiming “GOD HATES RENOIR” and “reNOir.” The Atlantic ran a piece titled “Why Absolutely Everyone Hates Renoir.” The Guardian, The Smithsonian Magazine, and NPR all followed suit and ran pieces on the artist’s maligned reputation. With all this floating around in the back of my mind, I was curious to see what it would be like to guard arguably Renoir’s most famous work.

If I was expecting impassioned tongue and cheek protests I was sorely disappointed. I didn’t, however, see the sort of superficial adoration that super-famous works (think the Mona Lisa) seem to provoke.

Instead I witnessed people of varying age, race, gender, and physical ability pay homage to art that genuinely seemed to matter to them. The Luncheon of the Boating Party, like Jacob Lawrence’s Migration Series or the Rothko Room, is a sort of pilgrimage destination within the Phillips. People would arrive at the final room of the show and break into beaming grins, eagerly snap pictures with friends, or fall into sobered silence when finally face to face with this masterpiece.

On some occasions visitors would come up to me or my colleagues to express their satisfaction and comment on how wonderful it must be to work at such a place.

It was moving to see art matter as profoundly as it did in the gallery with Luncheon of the Boating Party. In a world where our attention spans have been so shortened; where we have become desensitized through the sensationalism that bombards us daily, somehow the aura of this painting still has the power to move people either to joy or (perhaps even more impressively) to humbled silence. Whether or not this makes Renoir a great artist is somewhat beside the point. The reactions to Luncheon of the Boating Party are evidence that art can still matter to us collectively in profound and personal ways. In this sense, it doesn’t matter if the people gazing glassy-eyed at the painting “know” anything about art or art history; it seemed to strike them at a human level and in a way that reminds us all of the most fundamental point of art and its creation: to build connections within and between people.

Elliot Mackin, Museum Assistant