Past News at Kluge-Ruhe

Bark Re-housing Project Underway • Wednesday July 14, 2010

The Kluge-Ruhe Collection is currently undertaking a major project to preserve over 530 Australian Aboriginal bark paintings by re-housing them in custom storage containers.

Approximately one-third of the Kluge-Ruhe Collection consists of bark paintings from northern Australia. The paintings are made from sheets of Eucalyptus tetradonta bark painted with natural pigments mixed with a binder. These pigments are fragile and often unstable. The bark paintings range in size from less than several inches to over 14 feet in length. Kluge-Ruhe’s bark paintings represent important elements of traditional Indigenous life and are significant to the history and culture of Australia.

In the summer of 2009, Kluge-Ruhe conducted a full inventory of its collections and assessed the condition and storage of the collection. During the inventory over 100 of the paintings were surface cleaned. It was determined that the bark paintings required a storage solution that would create greater accessibility to the collection, minimize direct handling of the paintings, and provide the paintings with adequate support during retrieval.

The Bark Re-housing Project is a culmination of a year of planning by Associate Curator Dominique Cocuzza, during which each bark painting was evaluated and categorized by size in order to create a space efficient storage plan. Ms. Cocuzza designed open-sided stackable trays that are standardized by size. This storage configuration enables Kluge-Ruhe to maximize its existing space and maintain visual access to each piece for monitoring. Stable archival storage materials were chosen for the project and were pre-cut by the supplier to save time during assembly at Kluge-Ruhe.

In June 2010, Kluge-Ruhe summer interns Kelly Accetta and Katie Pawlowski began assembling the customized trays under Ms. Cocuzza’s supervision. The trays are constructed from a rigid corrugated plastic with foam corner pieces. Each tray is then customized with foam supports conforming to the inherent irregularities of the bark. Labels with catalogue information and color images of the paintings are attached to the outside of each tray to facilitate easy retrieval in storage. The trays can also be used to immobilize the pieces during shipment to other museums that have requested them on loan.

As of mid-July 2010, the interns have already constructed over 200 storage trays. The Kluge-Ruhe Collection plans to finish this project by January 1, 2011.

UVa’s commitment to collections care is evident in our plan for a new conservation and storage center designated for several collections owned by the University. The facility will double Kluge-Ruhe’s current storage space and create improved access to the collection for staff, students, and researchers. The shared conservation labs and teaching space at the center will also encourage collaboration among staff members working to preserve collections across the University.

Circles in the Sand opens at Embassy of Australia • Thursday June 17, 2010

The Kluge-Ruhe Collection opened an exhibit of western desert art at the Embassy of Australia in Washington DC on June 14. Circles in the Sand: Aboriginal Art from Central Australia in the Kluge-Ruhe Collection features work from the art centers at Papunya, Yuendumu and Balgo dating between 1971 and 2007.

The central desert of Australia stretches from Lake Eyre in the southeast to the Kimberley Plateau in the northwest. This vast and diverse area is the homeland to people representing many different language and culture groups. Much of the traditional art from the desert was painted on the body or drawn in the sand. In recent years, such ephemeral images have inspired more permanent contemporary art forms, specifically acrylic paintings on board and canvas.

Beginning in 1971 at a government settlement called Papunya, Aboriginal men produced paintings on masonite, wood and eventually canvas. This activity grew into a major art movement that radiated out to the neighboring communities of Yuendumu and Balgo. Men and women artists in each place developed their own local style of painting by varying elements like the palette of colors and quality of dots.

Elements common to acrylic painting throughout the desert were initially derived from sand drawing. Icons represent features of the landscape, ancestral beings and their activities in the creation era known as the Dreaming or Tjukurrpa. The concentric circles, wavy lines, and animal tracks that make up the primary design elements of the art of central Australia, express a traditional body of knowledge and relationship to land that has persisted for thousands of years.

Circles in the Sand includes paintings from the Aboriginal communities of Papunya, Yuendumu and Balgo in the Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection of the University of Virginia. The Kluge-Ruhe Collection came into being in 1997 through a gift by American businessman John W. Kluge. Containing over 1700 objects including paintings, sculpture and artifacts, the Kluge-Ruhe Collection is one of the top collections of Aboriginal art in the world and the only museum dedicated to the exhibition and study of Australian Aboriginal art in the USA.

The exhibit will continue through September 17 and is open for visitation 11 am – 2 pm weekdays. A photo ID is required for entry. For more information about the Embassy gallery please call (202) 797-3000 or contact

Samson & Delilah at Vinegar Hill Theatre • Thursday May 27, 2010

The Kluge-Ruhe Collection will present Samson & Delilah: True Love (2009) at Vinegar Hill Theatre on Tuesday, June 8 at 7:00 pm. The acclaimed feature film was written and directed by Warwick Thornton, a Katej man born and raised in Alice Springs. In 2009, Samson & Delilah won the Camera d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival.

Samson and Delilah live in an isolated community in the Central Australian desert. Frustrated by boredom, Samson sniffs gasoline (petrol) to escape the cycle of daily life and hopelessness. Violence finally propels Samson into breaking the cycle and his journey begins.

Sixteen year-old Delilah is the sole carer of her artist grandmother, who fancies Samson for her son-in-law. When Nana passes away Delilah is held responsible and the traditional punishment is harsh. Battered and bruised, Delilah is rescued by Samson.

In a stolen car with no food, money or idea where they are headed they head towards the desert horizon. The two teenagers soon discover that life outside the community can be cruel. Though hungry and rejected Samson and Delilah fall in love. It is all they have. It is real.

View the trailer here

Samson & Delilah contains mature themes of violence and drug abuse. It has been rated MA15+.

The film will start promply at 7:00 pm and will be followed by a brief Question and Answer period with Kluge-Ruhe Director and Curator Margo Smith. Tickets are $7.00 and can be purchased in advance from the Kluge-Ruhe Collection. The Vinegar Hill Theatre box office will open at 6:30 pm on the night of the screening.

For more information call the Kluge-Ruhe Collection at 434 244-0234.

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