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NGA Purchases Indonesian Textile Treasures

Tuesday 18 June 2002

Holmgren Spertus collection images


The Director of the National Gallery of Australia, Dr Brian Kennedy, today announced the major acquisition of Asian textiles from the collection of Robert J. Holmgren and Anita E. Spertus. Purchased over three years at a cost of $6.5 million, the acquisition of more than 400 rare and ancient textiles from the internationally renowned collection represents the National Gallery's biggest investment in Southeast Asian art.

Dr Kennedy said: 'The acquisition from the closely held and rarely publicly displayed Holmgren/Spertus private collection is a stunning addition to the Gallery's internationally recognised collection of Southeast Asian textiles. It reaffirms the Gallery's commitment to display the best of the region's artistic traditions.'

Dr Mattiebelle Gittinger, of The Textile Museum, Washington DC, and the world's leading scholar of Asian textiles, adds: 'The acquisition of a substantial portion of the Robert Holmgren and Anita Spertus collection of Asian textiles will earn for the National Gallery of Australia the reputation of having the world's premier holding of Indonesian textiles. It is an opportunity that, in all likelihood, could never be repeated given the limited number of fine textiles from this region of the world that remain available for purchase.'

The Federal Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts, Senator Richard Alston, said the acquisition underlined the importance the Gallery attached to the arts of Australia's northern neighbour. 'This will position the Gallery as a valuable centre for the study of Indonesian textiles for years to come.'

Senator Alston also said he was pleased to see major acquisitions by the Gallery reflecting and celebrating the great diversity of artistic media in this region.

The collection of Asian textiles was assembled over 30 years and constitutes the life work of New York-based art historians and collectors, Robert Holmgren and Anita Spertus.

The Holmgren/Spertus collection is celebrated internationally. Since the 1970s, every major exhibition of Indonesian art or textiles in Europe and the USA has included outstanding works borrowed from the collection.

'When we decided to secure a permanent home for a substantial part of our precious Indonesian textile collection, we sought a public institution which shared our vision of these woven treasures,' Mr Holmgren said. 'Beyond the sheer aesthetic pleasure they arouse, the textiles provide unique windows into Southeast Asian art history, into an encyclopaedic richness and variety of visual imagery. The National Gallery's commitment to the collection and display of textiles as one of the region's greatest and most varied art forms meshes exactly with our collecting philosophy.'

'Australia's immediate proximity to Indonesia, the prospect of fertile scholarly collaborations with Southeast Asian neighbours and the National Gallery of Australia's longstanding and unwavering commitment to the display of Southeast Asian art were decisive factors in the collectors' choice of venue,' said Dr Kennedy. 'The opportunity to acquire a large group of textiles of such rarity and beauty would probably not occur again because of the limited number of fine textiles from this region of the world that remain available, anywhere, for purchase.'

Robert Holmgren and Anita Spertus have also generously agreed to lend the Gallery 40 historical textiles that were traded from India to the Indonesian archipelago during the 15-18th centuries.

Dr Kennedy said he was also delighted that the Sultan of Yogyakarta, Hamengku Buwono X, who is in Australia as a special guest of the Federal Government, has agreed to officially launch the collection. Robert Holmgren and Anita Spertus will also be present.

The Holmgren/Spertus collection includes ship cloths with different maritime scenes from Lampung, South Sumatra; intricate batik textiles filled with mythical and exotic creatures from the Sino-Indonesian communities on the north Java coast; sombre Balinese sacred geringsing, masterpieces of the complex double ikat technique; and startling painted bark head cloths from the remote mountains of central Sulawesi.

According to Robyn Maxwell, the Gallery's Senior Curator of Asian Art, and an expert in the area of Asian textiles, the Holmgren/Spertus collection contains some of the most exceptional and oldest textiles yet discovered in Indonesia. 'This collection represents Indonesia's finest and most valued two-dimensional art form. Textiles are to Indonesia what painting is to Italy,' Ms Maxwell said.

Further Information:
Ken Begg, Media Adviser 0412 174 319
Gillian Freeman, Public Relations +612 6240 6694