Indigenous Australian art in focus at new Brumby-Ute Gallery |

Indigenous Australian art in focus at new Brumby-Ute Gallery

Andrew Travers
The Aspen Times
The show at the Brumby-Ute Galery showcases work by artists from Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Artists, an Australian nonprofit center for indigenous artists.
Courtesy photo |


What: Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Artists, opening reception

Where: Brumby-Ute Gallery, 501 E. Hyman Ave. (inside the Ute Building)

When: Friday, Jan. 9, 6 - 8 p.m.

More info: 970-925-5081;

The works currently on display at the Brumby-Ute Gallery may look at first glance like the abstract paintings of contemporary western artists. But look a little closer, and ask some questions, and you’ll find they tell a story and carry on a tradition of Aboriginal artists from Australia.

The exhibition at the recently opened gallery showcases work from Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Artists, a nonprofit center for indigenous artists on the northern coast of Australia.

Among them is Guynbi Ganambarr, who has had some of her work acquired by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Garawan Wanambi, the latest in a long line of artists from the Gangan region of Australia, who has won international acclaim in recent years.

Standing beside one of Wanambi’s works on a Monday afternoon, Brumby-Ute manager Kade McDonald explained that, although it resembles contemporary Western abstract painting, Wanambi’s work comes from a tradition uninfluenced by the West. Certain patterns, symbols and designs in the work may represent specific people, places, or phenomena.

“You and I see an abstract painting,” McDonald said. “He sees a landscape, a family photo, a self-portrait. And his decision to share this with you and I is that he wants to promote his people and educate us about them.”

The artists in the Brumby-Ute show are carrying on a tradition of art-making that extends back for thousands of years. They use brushes made of human hair. They make paint by grinding rocks to powder of various colors, then wetting it. Rather than canvas, they work on stripped tree bark, hollowed-out tree trunks in a form known as “Larrakotj,” and on salvaged dance floor boards, sustainably combining sculpture and two-dimensional media.

The current show at Brumby-Ute includes 13 trunks, 19 boards and three works on bark. The trunks are assembled in the center of the gallery, with a selection of the others on the walls.

The new gallery, located inside the Ute Building downtown, opened quietly before the holidays and hosts a reception for the new show on Friday. Brumby-Ute is planning monthly exhibitions, hosting international contemporary art along with regular shows featuring indigenous art from Australia.

McDonald, a native Australian, works as arts coordinator with the Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Center, which provides artist services for Aboriginal artists on the northern coast of Australia. He said he’s had several young Aussies, who are in Aspen working for the winter, pop in over the last few weeks when they’ve recognize the indigenous style of art from their homeland. McDonald said the gallery will keep an open door policy, welcoming anyone – art collectors and ski bums alike – who wants to learn about Aboriginal art and the work they’re showing.

McDonald will give a talk about the new show on Friday night. He is an affable guide for newcomers to indigenous Australian art, and also an expert who can go in-depth with in-the-know collectors who’ve caught wind of Aboriginal artists at Art Basel in Miami or seen them in the homes of prominent local collectors like Dennis and Debra Scholls.

The gallery is also planning regular symposiums on contemporary art, complementing the shows hosted at Brumby-Ute. The first is planned for Feb. 14 at Aspen Meadows, with guest speakers and experts discussing emerging and established artists from the Papunya Tula Artists cooperative in the western desert of Australia. After the current show, the gallery will host an exhibition of Papunya Tula artists, opening Feb. 13.

“We want to offer public programs as much as we want to offer curated exhibitions,” said McDonald. “It’s about educating people about what we’re doing and what this work is.”