Ethnographica or art?

Some European and American museums have bought work by Aboriginal artists but there is no broad base of collectors outside Australia for such paintings and no consensus that this work qualifies as “art”

Why devote a supplement to Australia? Not because 2001 is the centenary of Federation; such birthdays are only interesting to the countries concerned and, in any case, are usually cheered along more enthusiastically by politicians than the population as a whole.

It is simply that Australia is an entire continent with nearly 20 million inhabitants—quite enough to have its own ecology of art—yet so far as the world’s press is concerned, it might as well be on another planet, except during international jamborees such as the Olympics.

The Art Newspaper presents a snapshot, therefore, of some of the issues, and of what is going on this winter, in Australia (as the northern hemisphere winds down for the summer holidays, the Australians get into high gear).

These pages are not so much for domestic consumption—most Australians involved in the arts will know already about the rows over the director of the National Gallery, the misfortunes of Robert Hughes and the generosity of James Fairfax—as for the rest of our readers, from New York to Chad. Why should they be interested? Apart from the mere fact that Australia is there, which commands respect in itself, its fascination is that it draws so strongly on the European tradition and yet is slightly out of phase with it, more traditional, yet idiosyncratically creative, and more hopeful.