June 10, 2008 — Longtime University of Virginia donor and businessman John Kluge and his wife, Tussi, have donated 16 Aboriginal paintings from their private collection to the University's Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection. The gift adds to the exceptional holdings of the museum, which was established in 1997 through a generous gift from Kluge's private collection and ranks as one of the finest groups of works by Australian Aboriginal artists in the world.
The gift, announced June 1 at a reception honoring the Kluges and other Kluge-Ruhe donors at the museum, started as a loan of art works for an exhibition. The paintings by Papunya Tula artists Mick Namarari Tjapaltjarri, Johnny Warangkula Tjupurrula, Yanyatjarri Tjakamarra, Wuta Wuta Tjangala and others, are magnificent examples of early western desert art, according to Kluge-Ruhe director and curator Margo Smith. The paintings are valued at $1.3 million.
The gift came about after Smith requested a loan of early western desert pieces for a Kluge-Ruhe exhibit curated by New York University anthropology professor Fred Myers. The exhibit, "Virtuosity: The Evolution of Painting at Papunya Tula," follows the development of contemporary desert painting, which began in 1971 and has become an internationally recognized art form.
"These early western desert paintings, which date from the 1970s, are an important addition to the Kluge-Ruhe Collection, both for their artistic merit and their cultural significance," Smith said. "We have later works by the same western desert artists and can now show the development of their individual styles and virtuosity over time. They add tremendous research value to the collection."
At the reception, held at the Kluge-Ruhe Collection and attended by about 60 people — including members of the Mara Tjuta Circle, a group of friends who advance the museum's mission by supporting acquisitions and special programs — Kluge shared the credit for the Kluge-Ruhe Collection with the late Ed Ruhe, a professor at the University of Kansas. In 1993, Kluge purchased Ruhe's extensive collection and archives, which together with his own collection of Aboriginal art works formed the nucleus of the Kluge-Ruhe Collection. A longtime collector of art and a collector of Aboriginal art since 1988, Kluge related to the gathering a few stories about collecting art and expressed satisfaction with the plans to further develop the arts at U.Va.
Smith praised the Kluge's gift for expanding and addressing the challenge of educating Americans about Australian Aboriginal art through the museum's exhibitions, education programs, research center and publications.
The Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection of the University of Virginia is recognized as the finest collection of Aboriginal art outside Australia. It is the only public museum devoted to the exhibition of Australian Aboriginal art in the United States. Of the approximately 1,720 works in the collection, 1,620 were the gift of John Kluge. The museum's
study center supports academic and general research on Aboriginal art and culture boasting resources of several hundred volumes on Aboriginal art and ethnography, museum and exhibit catalogues, photographs and slides, as well as videos and cassette tapes. Included are many rare titles that are difficult to find outside Australia.