'The Million $$ Painting'
by Emily Kame Kngwarreye
On Wednesday May 23, 2007, Mbantua Gallery owner Tim Jennings attended a Lawson-Menzies auction in Sydney and made history in the art world by acquiring a work by Emily Kame Kngwarreye. The piece is titled Earth's Creation and sold for $1,056,000, the highest price at that time ever paid for a work of Australian Aboriginal Art and the highest price ever paid for a female artist in this country!
Measuring a stunning 2.7 metres high and 6.3 metres wide in total (consisting of four panels), the painting is the pièce de résistance of the Mbantua Collection. Like no other single work, Earth’s Creation showcases Emily’s artistic verve, and demonstrates her bold self-assuredness, total lack of self-consciousness and complete certainty when approaching a work on this monumental scale. In its creative spontaneity, ethereal movement, genius of colour complexity, evocative power and stylistic realization, it can be compared in turn to the work of international masters, Pollock, Kandinsky, Matisse, de Kooning and Monet.
"This work is a national treasure, and as such we honoured government requests to allow it to be the centrepiece of several major international and domestic exhibitions before we even had a chance to display it ourselves."
- Tim Jennings - owner
On the request of the National Museum of Australia (NMA), Earth’s Creation was loaned immediately on purchase to tour in Japan in 2007 for the Utopia: the Genius of Emily Kame Kngwarreye touring exhibition. This landmark exhibition was the brain child of Akira Tatehata, the director of the National Museum of Art in Osaka, who ‘is so passionate about Emily’s work that he couldn’t rest until he brought it to Japan’. The Japanese claim that the exhibition was ‘...the most successful contemporary art blockbuster ever seen in Japan, breaking Andy Warhol’s 10 year record by 40,000 visitors’. Not being known to Japanese, it was a risk that Akira took to exhibit Emily’s work, particularly as it followed in the footsteps of a Monet exhibition which had a million visitors in one month, and was co-billed with Modigliani. Yet Japan’s arts establishment decided Kngwarreye’s work deserved to be put on the same stage as these major artists. The exhibition saw over 130,000 visitors (more than double the Museum expected) with a surprise visit by the Crown Prince, the Empress and an official opening by Princess Takamado Hidenka. Japanese critics heralded Emily as a great modern artist and possibly the greatest modernist of all. Earth’s Creation’s stunning vista of colours and enormity greeted visitors on the first level, giving them a powerful taste of ‘Emily’s Genius’.
"Boyd, Whiteley and Nolan all had exhibitions overseas, but nothing like this. This would easily be the largest international exhibition for an Australian artist."
Margo Neale - Indigenous Art Curator and Historian
The exhibition finished at the National Museum in Canberra in 2008. Earth’s Creation was then exhibited for two months in the Great Hall of Parliament House in Darwin before heading home to Alice Springs.
Earth's Creation has more recently been on display at the Venice Biennale in Italy. The piece arrived back in Alice Springs in early 2016.
To find out more about this piece, please contact us at Mbantua at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Above: Images of Earth's Creation returning to Alice Springs after the artwork's most recent showing at the Venice Biennale (very nervous, steady hands!)