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Australian Aboriginal Art

Seattle Art Museum presents Ancestral Modern: Australian Aboriginal Art from the Kaplan & Levi Collection, on view May 31–September 2, 2012. With more than 100 works created from 1970 through 2009, the exhibition showcases what has been called the artistic renaissance of the world’s oldest living culture.

Symposium Transcript Now Available

BURNING ISSUES: Value and Contemporary Australian Aboriginal Art
MAY 31, 2012
| Symposium transcript available for download now → (PDF)

Home Land

Modern-day Aboriginal Australians are the direct descendants of the first people who arrived in Australia as early as 50,000 years ago. The Indigenous Australians revere the land, and their understanding of land and water is the living cultural knowledge that is passed down from generation to generation. The connectedness extends from the past, and shapes both present and future.

The Kaplan & Levi Collection comprises art from Arnhem and the northern regions, the vast desert areas of central and western Australia, the Kimberley, the southeast, and the Torres Strait.

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Dream Land

The Dreaming encompasses the cosmologies and belief systems of Aboriginal societies, and it also provides the great themes of their art. Even though there is no word for art in Aboriginal languages, visual literacy is an essential means of transferring knowledge over generations. Thus, from an early age everyone learns to draw and paint or weave, and although not all become practicing artists, each person is equipped to interpret the signs and symbols that appear in various forms of art. Aboriginal art is essentially spiritual in nature. Traditionally, it is produced in greatest volume on ceremonial occasions, but it can also serve the purposes of teaching, magic, and sorcery (whether to assure a successful hunt or to attract a wife or husband). And it can be made purely for pleasure.

When the British began settling the continent some 230 years ago, Aboriginal people were regarded as among the most miserable societies, possessing little in the way of culture. Without framed paintings or sculptures on pedestals (the Euro-pean archetypes of art), they were considered a people with no art at all. In fact, because most Aboriginal art was being made for the restricted context of ceremony, it was intentionally hidden from public view. During the last one hundred years, Aboriginal artists have chosen to change that. While they continue to make art for ceremonies that are part of the longest continuing tradition of art known to humanity, they now also create art that is disseminated to an international audience.

Welcome to visions of the long haul and big picture of our existence on Earth. Finally, after over 50,000 years of making art, we are able to see what the oldest continuous culture on the planet has in mind. Isn’t it about time? This art takes us into immense deserts and shimmering billabongs, into night skies and underground.

It is an aesthetic pleasure unlike any other. Utilizing contemporary mediums, these artists adapt visual languages that evolved over centuries. What may look abstract is full of symbols and stories that take on common human dilemmas—greed, desire, the search for nourishment, and punishment of deceit. Most often, this art offers veneration of the lands that are in their care and the founding ancestors who continue to provide direction.

Art Land
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Bush Hen Dreaming, SandHill Country
Dadu Minaral
Gija Country
Home Country
Horso Creek Massacre
Kutungka Napanangka (Old Woman Dreaming)
Ngak Ngak in Limmen Bight Country
Wati Kutjara (Two Men Story)
Wati Kutjarra (Two Brothers Dreaming)
Watiya Jukurrpa
Wirrimanu (Balgo)
Wirrimanu (Balgo)


Suggested General Admission Prices

$17 Adult

$15 Senior (62+), Military (with ID)

$11 Student (with ID), Teen (13-17)

FREE for SAM Members

FREE for children (12 and under)

Suggested Group Ticket Prices for 10 or more tickets:

$15 Adult

$13 Senior (62+), Military (with ID)

$9 Student (with ID), Teen (13-17)

FREE for SAM Members

FREE for children (12 and under)

Become a Member

Join today and receive exclusive access to Ancestral Modern. Members also enjoy great benefits, including:

• Personalized membership card granting unlimited free admission for a full year to all Seattle Art Museum locations: SAM Downtown, the Seattle Asian Art Museum and the Olympic Sculpture Park

• 10% discount at all SAM SHOP locations and TASTE Restaurant

• Invitations to members-only exhibition previews, programs and events, plus much more

Join now →

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10 am to 5 pm

Thursday & Friday:

10 am to 9 pm

Monday & Tuesday:


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Group Tickets

Groups of 10 or more receive a discount with advanced purchase. Plus, all guests receive 10% off in our SHOP and a free copy of SAM's Bridging Cultures book.

Private tours are also available for any size group and are a great way enhance your visit. Call 206.344.5260, email, or view the Group Visits section of the SAM website for fees and more information.

Group Ticket Pricing

Suggested Group Ticket Prices for 10 or more tickets:
$15 Adult
$13 Senior (62+), Military
$9 Student & Teen (13-17)
FREE for SAM Members
FREE for children (12 and under)

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map of SAM location

SAM Downtown
1300 First Avenue
Seattle, WA 98101-2003


TTY 206.654.3137

Heading North:

I-5 to Seneca Street exit (#165), west on Seneca Street to First Avenue, and turn right (North)

Heading South:

I-5 to Union Street exit (#165B), west (toward Puget Sound) on Union Street to First Avenue

From I-90:

Heading West, merge onto I-5 North, take Madison Street (#2C). Turn left on Madison and right on First Avenue

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Closest Parking Garage

The Russell Investments Center Garage entrance is below the museum on Union Street between First and Second Avenues.

Parking Garage Hours:

Monday–Friday: 6 am–10 pm
Saturday: 9 am–midnight
Sunday: 10 am–10 pm

This is an ADA-accessible garage; it has an elevator that will leave you around the corner from the museum's main entrance or inside the museum. Call 206.264.8444 for more information.

Bike Racks

Need to park your bike? There are bike racks on the corners of First Avenue and Union Street, Second Avenue and Union Street, Second Avenue and University Street and First Avenue and University Street.

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Special Thanks arrow


See Australia during your visit to Seattle. Our hospitality partners have developed some great packages to make it easy to combine a stay in Seattle with a VIP visit to see Ancestral Modern: Australian Art from the Kaplan & Levi Collection.

Fairmont Olympic Hotel

A short two blocks from the Seattle Art Museum, The Fairmont Olympic Hotel is especially convenient for museum visitors. Your trip to Australia includes:
• Luxurious accommodations for two
• Two (2) VIP tickets to SAM that include Ancestral Modern
• Breakfast for two in either The Georgian Room or In-Room dining
• Welcome amenity of Australian wine
Rates start at $399.

Hotel Andra

Go down under this summer and experience the unique visual language of Australian Aboriginal artists—without leaving Seattle! Enjoy this collection of works and then relax at Hotel Andra. Package includes:
• Overnight accommodations for two and two (2) tickets to Ancestral Modern
• $25 Lola dining credit
• Free overnight valet parking

The Inn at El Gaucho

Come experience food from Argentina and art from Australia with this special package:
• Overnight accommodations for two in our Belltown Jr. Suite
• Complimentary overnight valet parking
• Two (2) VIP tickets to the SAM that include the exhibition Ancestral Modern
• $50 dining credit to El Gaucho or Aqua by El Gaucho

The Inn at the Market

The only hotel located in downtown Seattle's beloved Pike Place Market, The Inn at the Market offers a signature Seattle experience treasured by visitors and locals alike. The package Includes:
• Overnight accommodations
• Two (2) VIP tickets to SAM that include Ancestral Modern
• A special amenity from Marchè
• Complimentary valet parking until 5 pm the day of departure

The Inn at the WAC

Take advantage of this Summer at SAM package to view SAM's summer exhibition, Ancestral Modern. When you return, walk the halls of the Inn at the WAC to view our permanent Northwest art collection. Your experience will include:
• Accommodations for two
• Two (2) VIP tickets to the SAM exhibition
• A special delivery of select artisan cheese and a bottle of our WAC partnership label wine
For rates and reservations, contact our reservations department today by calling 800.275.3775 or email

Seattle Bed & Breakfast Association

Tour the down under while you visit Seattle this summer! Stay at any one of our 17 privately owned and operated Bed and Breakfast Inns:
• Accommodations for two, including breakfast
• Parking
• Tickets to Ancestral Modern available from innkeepers at a discount price.
Please check our online availability or call 206.547.1020 for information. For reservations call the inn of your choice directly. Subject to availability; multiple night stay may be required.
Please note that the museum is closed on Monday and Tuesday.

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Special Thanks arrow

Special Thanks

Ancestral Modern: Australian Aboriginal Art from the Kaplan & Levi Collection is organized by the Seattle Art Museum. Generous support is provided by the Visionary Circle: Jeffrey and Susan Brotman, Barney A. Ebsworth, Jon and Mary Shirley, Virginia Wright, and Ann P. Wyckoff, who have provided crucial funding to make the exhibition possible.

Lead Grant

Art Mentor Foundation Lucerne Logo

Exhibition Sponsor

Seattle Office of Arts and Cultural Affairs Logo

Major Support

The Seattle Foundation

Patron Support

Embassy of Australia

Snoqualmie Indian Tribe

The United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney

Additional Support

Christopher and Alida Latham

Contributors to the Annual Fund

Media Sponsor

King 5

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MAY 31, 2012 | SYMPOSIUM

SYMPOSIUM: Value and Contemporary Australian Aboriginal Art

BURNING ISSUES: Value and Contemporary Australian Aboriginal Art

Symposium transcript available for download now → (PDF)