Private collector and Gallery benefactor Glenn Manser has gifted an astounding number of works to the Collection’s Indigenous Australian art holdings — this reflects a longstanding relationship with the Gallery that began in 2008. Bruce McLean spoke to Manser about what building a collection means to him.
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Bruce McLean | What was it that first drew your attention to Aboriginal art and stimulated the interest that compelled you to begin a collection?
Glenn Manser | I guess my first real contact with Australian Indigenous art was when I visited the Red Centre quite a few years ago now. I had a few hours spare and wandered into the old Papunya Tula Artists gallery in Alice Springs. I was instantly mesmerised by the quality and diversity of the art on display. I didn’t quite comprehend the motifs in the paintings or the different stories that were inherent in the men’s and women’s art. However, I subsequently made it my business to learn as much as I could about Western Desert art, and particularly that of the Pintupi people, who painted for Papunya Tula Artists.
Bruce McLean | What was the first work of Aboriginal art that you ever acquired?
Glenn Manser | The very first piece I purchased, if I remember correctly, was a 122 x 61cm earlier piece by Papunya Tula artist Makinti Napanangka. It was purchased from Michael Eather’s Fireworks Gallery here in Brisbane. This piece is now in the Owen Wagner Collection at the Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, in New Hampshire.
Bruce McLean | Do you have any focus areas within your collection and how have they developed?
Glenn Manser | The focus has essentially remained the same, i.e., work sourced from art centres that are owned and directed by the traditional Aboriginal people of the Western Desert. Centres like Papunya Tula Artists, Tjungu Palya, Tjala and the Spinifex Arts Project and so on have provided talented Indigenous artists with the opportunity to tell stories about their own traditions . . . Over recent years, however, a greater effort has been made to collect works by the descendants of Albert Namatjira. The Ngurratjuta Iltja Ntjarra/Many Hands Art Centre was established in 2004, and I have attempted to collect some of the best works by the third and fourth generation watercolourists. Works by Elton Wirri, Mervyn Rubuntja, Albert Namatjira Jr, Lenie Namatjira and Gloria Pannka and others form the basis of the collection. It is important to me to keep the legacy of this most prominent Australian family alive for future generations.
Bruce McLean | Personally, what has building a collection meant for you?
Glenn Manser | The process of putting together a collection has involved a considerable amount of self-education, so that I can understand what artists are expressing about their experiences and their culture. I have a better understanding of what country and disenfranchisement mean to Indigenous Australian people, whether from remote areas or urban centres. A real respect for those like Sarah Brown, CEO of the Western Desert Dialysis Unit, and Paul Sweeney, Manager of Papunya Tula Artists, and others who attempt to improve people’s lives has also grown through my association with Aboriginal art. The aesthetic pleasure of collecting has been underpinned by a far more insightful appreciation of what art means to the artists themselves and their communities.
Bruce McLean | How did you begin your relationship with QAGOMA?
Glenn Manser | I have always been a visitor to QAGOMA but took a greater interest in the Gallery when I happened upon the exhibition ‘Namatjira to Now’ (in 2008). It coincided with my own collection focus at the time. It presented interesting insights into the place of Albert Namatjira and the Hermannsburg School in Australian art and history. I also saw a natural synergy between the exciting direction the Gallery was taking under new director Chris Saines, the vision articulated in the amazing ‘My Country: Contemporary Art From Black Australia’ exhibition, and my own collection preferences.
Bruce McLean | Do you think private philanthropy is important in art today, especially with regard to Aboriginal art?
Glenn Manser | For a large public gallery that services not only Brisbane but regional centres as well, it is important that it holds a large, diverse collection of Indigenous Australian art. While a focus on Queensland Indigenous art is necessary, it is important that QAGOMA also holds substantial collections that reflect the full Australian context. With the Gallery budget stretched in many directions, it is especially important that individuals with an interest in Indigenous art give generously to the Foundation, so that all Queenslanders can appreciate the complexity and remarkable beauty of the art of the First Australians and their descendents.
Glenn Manser was interviewed in March 2014.
Bruce Johnson McLean is Curator, Indigenous Australian Art, QAGOMA. He is a member of the Wierdi (Wirrid) people of the Birri Gubbi nation of Wribpid (central Queensland).
Acknowledgment of Country
The Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA) acknowledges the Turrbal and Yugara (Jagera) peoples who are the traditional custodians of the land upon which the Gallery stands in Brisbane. We pay respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander elders past and present and, in the spirit of reconciliation, acknowledge the immense creative contribution Indigenous people make to the art and culture of this country.
It is customary in many Indigenous communities not to mention the name or reproduce photographs of the deceased. All such mentions and photographs are with permission, however, care and discretion should be exercised.
Feature image detail: Arthur Tjatitjarra Robertson Tjinytjira 2006