COLOGNE SEES THE LIGHT ON ABORIGINAL ART
Author: MIRIAM COSIC
IT'S one small step for an Australian art dealer, but a giant leap in status for a whole civilisation. After outcry in the Australian and German art worlds, the annual Cologne art fair has reversed its ban on the Melbourne art gallery owner Gabrielle Pizzi and has agreed to include Aboriginal artists when it opens on November 10.
"The reversal came after widespread publicity in the German press," said Ms Pizzi, an internationally known dealer in Aboriginal art, yesterday. "I'm amazed at the amount of coverage of my rejection - and throughout Germany, not just in Cologne. All the articles attacked the decision and were very supportive of Aboriginal art and my gallery."
Earlier this year, the Cologne Art committee decided that although Ms Pizzi had exhibited the previous year, she would not be invited back. Ms Pizzi said she sent a letter of protest, which the committee considered before sending a final fax in May.
"After taking all aspects of your application into consideration, it was not possible to grant you selection for Art Cologne 1994 because you do not exhibit authentic Aboriginal art, as the '93 Exhibition jury observed, but contemporary art by artists following in this tradition," the fax reads. "As you know ... folk art is not permitted at Art Cologne."
The Swiss artist Bernard Luthi - curator of the immensely successful exhibition, ARATJARA - Art of the First Australians, which showed in Dusseldorf, London, and Denmark last year - contacted the press in Germany as soon as he heard of Ms Pizzi's position. Articles about the art fair's decision and letters to editors subsequently batted the issue backwards and forwards over a period of weeks.
From Australia, Ms Pizzi said, letters of protest went out from the office of the Federal Arts Minister, Mr Michael Lee, and from the Aboriginal unit of the Australia Council. Dr Ulrich Krempel, director of the Sprengel Museum in Hanover, was one of many German luminaries who wrote in protest to the Art Cologne committee.
The German media debate dragged out old arguments about the position of"native" art in the modern world - arguments which plagued Australia in the 1960s and 1970s, Ms Pizzi explained, but which we had worked through since then.
"(A definition) of the position of contemporary Australian Aboriginal art is long overdue," said Ms Pizzi. "This is not just an issue of Art Cologne -one does continue to encounter the attitude from time to time."
The light finally dawned on Art Cologne. Last Friday, Ms Pizzi received another fax from the committee of Art Cologne. It informed her, briefly, that"following the recent widespread discussion", it had been decided that she would be allocated space at the fair.