Past News at Kluge-Ruhe

Dr. Joe Gumbula to speak at Kluge-Ruhe Collection • Sunday November 7, 2010

Dr. Joe Gumbula is equally at home conducting ceremonies in the remote bush of Australia’s Northeast Arnhem Land and conducting research in international museum collections. A Yolngu elder with decades of experience in ceremonial leadership and traditional song, dance and design, Gumbula has worked for the last several years as a fellow with the Australian Research Council. One of his projects has involved examining the earliest records on Arnhem Land, including photographs and sound recordings, to identify and document them. Part of this project has resulted in the return of digital copies of these materials to Aboriginal communities, which are now developing their own archives. ‘”Technology has made it possible for me to bring back these photos and audio records back to my community: it was the first time many people had seen these pictures of their families from 60 to 70 years ago,” he said.

Gumbula is visiting the United States on another research project, where he is focusing on material from Milingimbi and in particular the collection of artifacts and documentation gathered by American anthropologist Lloyd Warner. Accompanying him is Louise Hamby, a Research Fellow at the Australian National University. Gumbula and Hamby are visiting the two major institutions that hold Warner material in America, the Phoebe Hearst Museum of Anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley and the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology at Harvard University. In New York City they will meet with the Warner family. In addition they will examine the Milingimbi material from the 1948 American-Australian Scientific Expedition to Arnhem Land in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC. While at the Kluge-Ruhe Collection, they plan to conduct research on the central Arnhem Land collections including works by Gumbula’s father, Tom Djawa.

Gumbula and Hamby will present a joint lecture entitled Makarr Garma and Milingimbi on Friday, Nov 12 at 7 pm at the Kluge-Ruhe Collection. This talk will focus on the exhibition Makarr-garma: Aboriginal Collections from a Yolngu Perspective curated by Gumbula, and the research of Hamby on the collection of Lloyd Warner.

The lecture is free and open to the public but reservations are required. Call 434 244-0234 to make a reservation. A reception will follow the lecture.

Kluge-Ruhe Advisory Council Meets at Morven • Thursday October 14, 2010

The inaugural meeting of the Kluge-Ruhe Advisory Council took place at Morven October 7 – 9, 2010. Advisors came from Adelaide, Canberra, Seattle, New York and Washington DC to discuss Kluge-Ruhe’s current programs and develop strategies to reach long-term goals. The advisors in attendance were Brenda Croft, Robert Kaplan, Tussi Kluge (Chair), Margaret Levi, Howard Morphy, Terry Snowball, Barbara Wilkerson and John Wilkerson. Brendan Wall, Director of Cultural Affairs at the Embassy of Australia, attended on behalf of Ambassador Kim Beazley. Singer and artist Tony Bennett, who also serves on the Advisory Council, was unable to attend this meeting.

Through two days of meetings advisors heard from UVa’s President Teresa A. Sullivan and Vice Provost of the Arts Beth Turner about the University’s future plans for expanding the UVA Art Museum, with a dedicated gallery for the Kluge-Ruhe Collection. Plans for art storage and conservation labs were also discussed.

Kluge-Ruhe Director Margo Smith presented the history of the Collection and a number of new projects on the horizon. She also discussed the museum’s mission and strategic planning process. Associate Curator Dominique Cocuzza presented two projects to re-house large acrylic paintings and bark paintings in the Collection. Director of Development for Museums Anna von Gehr spoke with members about fundraising priorities and evolving partnerships between the two museums.

The Advisory Council toured UVa Art Museum, an offsite art storage facility, and the Kluge-Ruhe Collection. They met Kluge-Ruhe docents and interns as well as UVa students studying Aboriginal art at a reception at Kluge-Ruhe.

Advisors will meet annually and will continue to work as advocates for the Kluge-Ruhe Collection between meetings.

John Werner Kluge (1914-2010) • Wednesday September 8, 2010

John W. Kluge, American businessman and founder of the Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection of the University of Virginia, passed away September 7, 2010 at the age of 95.

Kluge was born in Chemnitz, Germany in 1914, immigrating to America with his mother and German-American stepfather when he was eight years old. He left home at fourteen to pursue an education. An excellent student, Kluge was awarded a four-year scholarship to Columbia University, where he graduated with a major in Economics in 1937.

Kluge landed his first full-time job by offering to work for a very low salary in exchange for a share of the company if he doubled sales. Beginning in the stockroom, he set out to learn every job in the company. Within three years he had doubled sales, was vice president and owned a third of the company’s stock.

Kluge’s work history was characterized by risk-taking and unwavering ambition. He invested in several different industries, including radio stations, food brokerage, direct mail and real estate. In each case, he found new ways to promote a stagnant company or industry. By 1958, Kluge was a millionaire. He built his company, Metromedia, into a huge conglomerate of advertising, entertainment and communications businesses.

Kluge’s drive to achieve higher and higher goals is evident not only in his work history but also in his art collecting strategy. He began collecting art in the 1950s and became a leading proponent of corporate art investment. Through Metromedia, Kluge purchased the work of emerging California artists and an historic poster collection.

By the time he started collecting Australian Aboriginal art, Kluge already owned collections of Maillol sculptures, ancient bronze figures and 19th century horse-drawn carriages. His residences in New York, Florida and Virginia were filled with an eclectic mix of antiquities, modern and contemporary art, sculpture and fine furnishings. Aboriginal art complemented this extraordinary blend of cultures and styles.

Kluge began collecting Aboriginal Art in 1988 after seeing an exhibition called Dreamings: The Art of Aboriginal Australia at the Asia Society Galleries in New York. Drawn by the beauty and visual power of Aboriginal art, he assembled a collection of more than 1,600 objects including paintings on bark and canvas, sculpture and material culture. Kluge directed considerable resources toward creating the largest and most valuable collection of Aboriginal art outside Australia. His connoisseurship helped to establish Aboriginal art as an internationally recognized fine art form.

Kluge always possessed a soft spot for the “underdog.” As a collector, he consistently sought out artists who were not yet established, either early-career artists or those working in alternative media. Encountering Aboriginal art at a time when it was emerging in the global art market, Kluge believed it had not yet realized its potential. He enjoyed taking risks as a collector. “It wasn’t safe art,” he said, “that was part of the attraction.”

Kluge built his collection by organizing several notable commissions with community art centers, as well as purchasing works at auction and through art dealers in Australia, Los Angeles and New York. In 1993 he acquired the Ruhe Collection from the estate of Edward L. Ruhe, an English professor at the University of Kansas. This collection of more than 1,000 objects brought both historical depth and breadth of representation of diverse artists and styles to the Kluge collection. By 1995 Kluge began focusing on filling gaps in the collection by building on its existing strengths. Another round of commissions helped to “complete” Kluge’s vision of developing a comprehensive collection representing the major art-producing regions of Australia.

The Kluge collection remained private for many years. During this time Kluge explored the possibility of building a private museum for the collection. Finally, he became convinced that the collection should be open to the public and used for education and scholarly research. With this in mind, he donated the Kluge-Ruhe Collection to the University of Virginia in 1997. The Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection opened in 1999 as the only public museum dedicated to Australian Aboriginal art in America.

John and his wife, Tussi, have been generous supporters of the Kluge-Ruhe Collection, financing the publication of the book, Art from the Land: Dialogues with the Kluge-Ruhe Collection, and donating 16 early Western Desert paintings to the collection in 2008. They recently agreed to co-chair the inaugural Advisory Council for the Kluge-Ruhe Collection.

Dr. Howard Morphy, Director of the Research School of Humanities & the Arts at Australian National University writes, “It is impossible to overestimate John Kluge’s contribution to increasing the global appreciation and understanding of Australian Aboriginal art. He built an exceptional collection of aesthetically powerful works and ensured they were documented to the highest standards. His support of research into Aboriginal art and his development of the Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection at the University of Virginia helped to lay the foundations for the future art history of Aboriginal art. He will be greatly missed by all who share his sense of the beauty and power of Aboriginal art.”

John’s presence will be greatly missed as we strive to carry his vision for the Kluge-Ruhe Collection forward.

Margo Smith

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