On 29 April 2022, the collectors Karlheinz and Agnes Essl presented the Weltmuseum Wien with a generous gift of Aboriginal Art from the Essl Private Collection.
The gift consists of an important block of works comprising 58 artefacts – mainly bark paintings and three-dimensional objects. These works are by 40 indigenous artists, among them John Mawurndjul, Fred Ward Tjungurrayi, Melba Gunjarrwanga, Jenny Fraser, Charlie Djinmalala Brian, Lena Yarinkura, and Maree Puruntatameri.
The Origins of the Collection
Karlheinz and Agnes Essl began collecting Aboriginal Art in 2000. In 2003, Karlheinz Essl and the Australian curator Michael Eather visited Aboriginal communities in the Australian Outback. They travelled to settlements all over the country where art was being produced including Alice Springs, the spiritual centre of Aboriginal Art, and Papunya, where the artist and art teacher Geoffrey Bardon was instrumental in creating contemporary Aboriginal Art in the 1970s and bringing it to world attention. Papunya is home to the now famous dot painting.
The Aboriginal Communities kindly allowed Karlheinz Essl and Michael Eather to gain valuable insights into this millennia-old yet timeless art tradition.
Exhibitions at the Essl Museum in 2001 and 2004
Over the course of this trip, Karlheinz Essl was able to acquire artworks from all parts of Australia, which were included in the exhibition Spirit and Vision shown at the Essl Museum in 2004. Most of the artefacts shown there form the block of works now gifted to the Weltmuseum Wien.
In 2001, the Essl Museum presented Dreamtime, the first important exhibition of Aboriginal art shown in Austria. Both shows generated enormous international interest and proved the museum’s most popular exhibitions.
“We are proud to present the Weltmuseum Wien with an important group of works of Aboriginal art. Aboriginal Art is a core holding of the Essl Collection and has always formed a part of exhibitions hosted at the Essl Museum. We are very happy that these unique works have found a new home at Weltmuseum Wien.”
Agnes and Karlheinz Essl
“I would like to express my appreciation and deep gratitude to Agnes and Karlheinz Essl, whose tireless commitment to art and international patronage and connoisseurship has deeply impacted and enriched Austria’s museum landscape.”
Sabine Haag, Director-General of the KHM-Museumsverband
“Until now the Weltmuseum Wien’s Australia Collection comprised around 700 artefacts, its first acquisitions dating from the early nineteenth century. Now it will receive examples of contemporary Aboriginal Art, mainly from Arnhem Land. These artworks represent an important and valuable addition to our historical holdings. At Weltmuseum Wien they will be both accessible to a wider audience and preserved for science and academic study.”
Jonathan Fine, Director of the Weltmuseum Wien