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Salon des Refusés

FRENCH FOR 'EXHIBITION OF REJECTS', the Salon des Refusés is defined as 'an exhibition of works rejected by the jury of the official Paris Salon'. Although this does not sound like a very flattering group to be part of, the idea of the Salon des Refusés has recalibrated into something most artists would be proud to be part of, suggesting that often things at first rejected can become symbolic of change and progress in the art world.

By Claire Eltringham

Now, following in the footsteps of the sophisticated French, Darwinites can be proud of their very own Salon des Refusés. Showcasing artworks not selected for the Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards (NATSIAA), by it’s very existence the Salon des Refusés challenges the notion of what constitutes an ‘excellent’ piece of art. Who decides this? How does one judge what is deemed ‘good’ and what is deemed ‘not good enough’?

The NATSIAA follow a tried-and-tested approach to selecting work. They invite a group of high profile and experienced industry professionals to judge the award entries. Up until a couple of years ago, there was no way for punters, patrons, art enthusiasts, curators, collectors or artists to see which works were not chosen, nor to make an assessment of why.

Founded by two local commercial gallerists, Matt Ward from Outstation Gallery and Paul Johnstone from Paul Johnstone Gallery, and now in it’s 3rd year, the annual Salon des Refusés provides this unique insight and has quickly become one of the premiere art exhibitions in the Top End. Featuring paintings, sculpture, photography, works on paper and new media artworks from the central and western deserts, the Kimberley district, far north Queensland, Arnhem Land in the Top End, Arakoon in NSW, the Pilbara and north west South Australia – just to name a few – the show provides much insight into how diverse in variety and styles Indigenous art is.

But the Salon des Refusés is not a smorgasboard of unselected works thrown together. It is a highly curated and thoughtful selection of those artworks that present sound skill, artistic flair, ingenuity and all have earned a worthy place in the show. One such work is Ngayuku Ngura by Wawiriya Burton, a senior female artist from Tjala Arts. With an interesting combination of the horizontal tracks of the ground contrasting beautifully with the playful shapes sprouting from the horizon line, the artist’s use of joyous colour and dotting technique only adds to appeal of this work.

Emerging artists Vincent Namatjira and Kaylene Whiskey, both from Iwantja Arts in South Australia, contributed works that used a refreshing style, while established artist Valmayi Nampitjinpa, who paints for both Papunya Tula Artists and Tjarlirli Arts but with a completely different style for each, has a knock-out work in this year’s show. From emerging artists to one of the most senior in the country, the work Wati Ngintaka Tjukurpa by Harry Tjutjuna from Ninuku Arts, demonstrates just how magical and uninhibited art by older artists can be.

Graham Rostron from Jabiru in the Northern Territory has created a bark painting that is striking in composition and refined in approach. Bekka (File Snake) depicts a large snake protectively wrapped around what appears to be a pile of eggs, the skeletal forms captured in intricate detail and contrasting beautifully with a bold ochre red background. In contrast to this classical approach is the very playful sculptural work Good Body to Live by Marlene Rubuntja. Here, the fabulous style of the central Australian Yarrenty Arltere artists is portrayed, combining traditional story telling with stylised figures and bright, colourful stitching.

If this year’s Salon des Refusés proves anything, it is that fortune favours the brave and that works rejected can be well worth a second look!




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