Gordon Bennett Outsider Essay
These differences delineate one of the most complex domains in Australian museography of the last half-century, and one of the least elucidated in museology.
The lack of debate about different museum approaches to Indigenous culture is reinforced by continuing divisions in institutional cultures, research and publications.
A growing number of Indigenous curators have been employed by art museums, some of whom have organised or coordinated some of the most outstanding exhibitions in the country in recent decades.
Key examples are: Indigenous exhibitions have also included the curatorial input of Indigenous artists; for example, Fiona Foley, Rea, Avril Quaill, Brook Andrew, and again Brenda L Croft, as well as other practitioners – a number of artist-curators having emerged through the Boomalli Aboriginal Artists’ Cooperative formed in 1987 in Sydney.
Such divisions are maintained only at considerable cost to Indigenous cultural aspirations to be ‘viewed whole’: as part of a continuing cultural history and comprehensive story of adaptive evolution across a huge land and islands over centuries.
Continued institutional segregation distorts the historical record of more than a half-century.
Such developments could not have been accomplished within previous institutional practices.Historical imagination was challenged in its interpretative tasks.New connections needed to be made, stretching beyond museums and involving near and far-distant communities.Collections of Indigenous art in art museums have gained dramatically in depth as well as strength since the 1980s.Many institutions now house outstanding of works in their collections that enable in-depth coverage of Indigenous regional and urban styles, as well as intensive representation of individual artists. The transformational changes of the later twentieth century could not have been imagined in the 1940s, when the small bark illustrated here  was collected on the American-American Australian Scientific Expedition to Arnhem Land (AASEAL expedition) in 1948 led by Charles Mountford. Four decades later, the situation was completely transformed.Australia’s state and national galleries have been acquiring Indigenous art purposively since the 1950s.They have established staffing structures and programs providing permanent attention to Indigenous art as a central aspect of their institutional mission; meanwhile the largest institutions have developed dedicated curatorial departments supporting specialised collections and exhibitions.On one hand it was framed by scientific study and typological displays in natural history museums that could remain unchanged for decades. On the other hand, if Aboriginal art presented to highlight aesthetic contents, it frequently still carried a burden derived from nineteenth-century science’s interest in ‘primitive’ stages of society,  and thus was framed as ‘Primitive art’.