Front of the Gallery

About the Collection

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art


The Gallery was the first state art gallery to purchase the work of an Aboriginal artist in 1939, and in 1955, it was the first to commence strategically collecting Aboriginal art. Today the Gallery holds among the largest and most beautiful group of Arnhem Land objects collected by anthropologist, Charles Mountford between 1948 and 1952.


In 1980, the Gallery was the first major art museum in Australia to acquire a Western Desert ‘ dot’ painting and to display it in context with other non-Aboriginal twentieth-century art. Further wider collecting followed and the Gallery is now home to some of the rare defining paintings of the Aboriginal art movement, including Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri’s Man’s love story, 1978, Turkey Tolsen Tjupurrula’s Straightening spears at Ilyingaungau, 1990, and Rover Thomas’s Paruku (Lake Gregory), 1991. Other recent major acquisitions to the collection include John Mawurndjul’s Billabong at Milmilngkan, 2002, and Yala Yala Gibbs Tjungurrayi Man (Wati) ceremony, 1972. This remarkable Aboriginal art collection is now accessible online and has been made available through the generous support of Santos.


Santos' commitment to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art was launched with the Santos Atrium in 1998. Santos has since extended the partnership, enabling a national touring exhibition titled The Desert Country (exhibiting 40 years of the desert painting movement) and the acquisition of a major bark painting by John Mawurndjul, (2009) and a commitment to display over 1,000 indigenous works in the online gallery available to view here.The support also includes three publications and further career development of the Gallery's Indigenous curator. This activity won the 2012 National Australian Business Arts Foundation Partnering Award through Creative Partnerships Australia.


The third tenure of our partnered activity includes the inauguration of First Fridays. Presented by Santos, First Friday’s is the Gallery’s up-late program, staying open (from 5pm – 9pm) on the first Friday of every month and providing access to major exhibitions, or special displays in the Gallery’s permanent collection, guest speaker talks, two ‘twilight tours’ and live entertainment.