PM - Monday, 3 March , 2008 18:37:00
Reporter: Shane McLeod
The exhibition has just opened in the city of Osaka.
It's the biggest ever international exhibition of the works of an Australian artist.
Those behind the show are hoping to open Japanese eyes to the unique story of Kngwarreye's work: an Indigenous woman who took up the brush and canvas late in life and produced works what many regard as works of genius.
Tokyo correspondent Shane McLeod attended the launch for PM.
SHANE MCLEOD: Japan is known as one of the richest art markets in the world but it's also a country where to become a big name in art, it helps if you're European.
It's a mindset that the organisers of a major new exhibition launched in the city of Osaka hope to change.
Featured is the art of Indigenous Australian Emily Kame Kngwarreye. She was around 80 years old when she first put brush to canvas, from the tiny community of Utopia in central Australia.
Her abstracts stunned the art world; more in keeping with 20th Century modernism than conceptions on Indigenous art.
Margot Neale from the National Museum of Australia wants the exhibition to make a big impression in Japan.
MARGOT NEALE: If they've ever wanted to have master art, they never look to Australia.
So, it's going to be very intriguing for the Japanese saying well how come, you know the National Arts Centre of Tokyo, or the National Museum of Osaka are doing a blockbuster on this lady called Emily who we've never even heard of, who's supposed to be a master from the red heart of the desert of Australia; ancient you know black woman and all of that.
So that extra story is going to absolutely create a fantastic unsettling.
SHANE MCLEOD: Margot Neale has coordinated the effort to put together the largest ever overseas exhibition of an Australian artist.
There are 120 works on show from more than 60 different collections. Included among them is the art work of Kngwarreye's that set records in Australia; the massive Earth's Creation last year set a record for Indigenous art, when it changed hands for more than one million dollars.
But the head of Osaka's National Museum of Art isn't interested in the price tags.
Akira Tatehata is awed by the artistic quality of works painted by an 80-year-old woman in the middle of central Australia.
(sound of Akira Tatehata speaking)
At the beginning I was just stunned, he says. I stood there absent-mindedly in front of the painting. But suddenly it was joy. It was such a strong feeling it was strange even to me but tears started falling. I thought, why am I crying? I didn't know why I was crying. Perhaps I was so moved because I came in touch with something so beautiful.
SHANE MCLEOD: Emily Kngwarreye died in 1996. In the years since her death her reputation has grown.
Professor Tatehata was so intrigued by her history that he travelled to outback Australia to see first hand where she created her art.
(sound of Akira Tatehata speaking)
The air, the wind and the nature in the bush and the desert are near her grave. What I experienced overlapped with the memory of when I see her paintings. I gained a deeper understanding and it became real.
I'd simply thought it was modern art, but by going there, I was able to understand the depth of something that I'd seen in a very modern context.
SHANE MCLEOD: Nearly one fifth of the works on display are from the private collection of one of Emily Kngwarreye's most enthusiastic supporters, Australian businesswoman Janet Holmes a Court.
JANET HOLMES A COURT: It's only fitting that they should end up here but of course that wasn't on our minds when we bought it.
The first reason we bought Emily's work was that we were deeply moved by it; we liked it. It's almost a visceral response that I have to it.
SHANE MCLEOD: After two months in Osaka the exhibition will move to Tokyo's National Art Centre in May.
This is Shane McLeod reporting for PM.