Earth's Creation - The Million Dollar Painting!
Emily Kame Kngwarreye
On Wednesday May 23, 2007, Tim Jennings, the owner of Mbantua Gallery in Alice Springs, attended a Lawson-Menzies auction in Sydney and made history in the art world by acquiring a work by Emily Kame Kngwarreye. The piece is titled Earth's Creation and sold for $1,056,000, the highest price at that time ever paid for a work of Australian Aboriginal Art and the highest price ever paid for a female artist in this country!
Measuring a stunning 2.7 metres high and 6.3 metres wide in total (consisting of four panels), the painting was to be the pièce de résistance of the Mbantua Collection. Like no other single work, Earth's Creation showcased Emily's artistic verve, and demonstrated her bold self-assuredness, total lack of self-consciousness and complete certainty when approaching a work on this monumental scale. 'Earth's Creation' was commissioned in 1995 by another famous Utopian artist, Barbara Weir, and her son Fred Torres.
Tim has said he had high expectations of what Earth's Creation would do for Utopian art as well as for Mbantua and for Alice Springs. "I bought it because it comes from here, from the community I represent in my gallery. It will give an enormous sense of pride to the Utopia artists. It will encourage people to visit Alice Springs and be exposed to Utopian art."
Tim first met Emily in the late 1980's when she was part of a women's group working in batiks a few years before she began painting in acrylics. He was close to Emily and members of her extended family right up until her death in 1996 and recalls her being a strong minded woman even though she spoke very little English. Emily was a genius Australian, with no formal or even informal training in art. She knew nothing of any other schools of art. She spoke in ancient Australian languages, Anmatyerre and Alyawarre. She painted "everything" in a way that was never done before, and has never been seen since.
Just before the auction took place in Sydney, the National Museum of Australia (NMA) had requested that Earth's Creation be made available to tour in Japan in 2007 for the "Utopia: The Genius of Emily Kame Kngwarreye" exhibition. This landmark exhibition was the brainchild of Akira Tatehata, the director of the National Museum of Art in Osaka. He was very passionate about Emily's work and had stated that he couldn't rest until he had brought the painting to Japan. The Japanese claim that the exhibition was "...the most successful contemporary art ever seen in Japan, breaking Andy Warhol's 10-year record by 40,000 visitors". Not being known to the Japanese, Akira had taken a risk to exhibit Emily's work, particularly as it followed close on the heels of a Monet exhibition which had a million visitors in one month and was co-billed with Modigliani. Yet Japan's arts establishment decided Kngwarreye's work deserved to be put on the same stage as these major artists. The exhibition saw over 130,000 visitors (more than double the Museum expected) with a surprise visit by the Crown Prince, the Empress and an official opening by Princess Takamado Hidenka. Japanese critics heralded Emily as a great modern artist and possibly the greatest modernist of all. Earth's Creation's stunning vista of colours and enormity greeted visitors on the first level, giving them a powerful taste of 'Emily's Genius'.
The exhibition finished at the National Museum in Canberra in 2008. Earth's Creation was then exhibited for two months in the Great Hall of Parliament House in Darwin before heading home to Alice Springs. Because of its huge size, a special room had to be created for the painting in Mbantua Gallery.
Emily Kame Kngwarreye's paintings are described by leading international art academics as being equal to the works of Monet, and other great Impressionist and Abstract artists such as Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, and Rothko. Experts have argued that Earth's Creation is a more important painting for Australia than Jackson's 'Blue Poles', the highly controversial American work that put the National Gallery of Australia onto the world stage in 1973 and remains one of its most celebrated works today.
In January 2015, Okwui Enwezor, the Curator of the 56th International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia, was in contact with Tim in relation to exhibiting Earth's Creation in Venice. As a result, this painting travelled all the way to Venice and was on exhibition for 6 months. Thousands of visitors from around the world were able to view this wonderful example of our Australian Indigenous art!
- Emily Kame Kngwarreye: 1916-1996 (online)
- This exhibition, comprised of artwork from Mbantua Gallery's Permanent Collection, was created for people to learn many new things about Emily, one of Australia's most respected artists.
- July 27th 2006 - March 2007: Leaves of Time
- A Retrospect of Gloria Petyarre's work on canvas. This exhibition showcased a collection of works by Utopia artist Gloria Petyarre, showing an evolution in her paintings.
- October 30th 2004 - July 24th 2006 : Evolution of Utopia
- Evolution of Utopia was our first Museum exhibition when the Mbantua Cultural Museum opened on October 30th 2004. This exhibition showcased 144 works by 71 Utopian artists between 1986 and 2004.