I had been meaning to visit Tandanya Aboriginal Arts Centre for a number of years and finally got around to it in December 2014.
What a disappointment.
Based on the hype I had anticipated seeing a wonderful selection of Aboriginal art, pottery and other artefacts. I wasn’t looking for other art forms (not that I saw any anyway).
What I found was two large rooms with mediocre, modern and of similar style artwork hanging around the walls. No other artefacts or exhibits of any kind were on display leaving the large rooms empty and empty looking.
What I hadn’t expected was that the artwork was all for sale – not necessarily a bad thing in itself, except that I felt is was way over priced. Most of it in the thousands of dollars price range.
There was very little in terms of commentary on, or interpretation of, the artwork and the presentation was generally poor. Photography was prohibited for ‘copyright’ reasons and from what I hear this ban is harshly enforced. As I didn’t take any photos and was the only visitor I cannot vouch this to be the case.
The only part of the centre that looked and felt in any way professional was the gift-shop – this speaks volumes. The ‘multi-arts’ centre apparently puts on Aboriginal shows such as didgeridoo playing and the like – I saw no evidence of this, but to be fair, as I said earlier I wasn’t looking for this and made no inquiries in this regard.
The website – refer below – is also underwhelming and harps on, unnecessarily in my view, about copyright, licensing, royalties and how the place is ethical, authentic and so on and so forth. If they put as much effort into their displays (and added more exhibits) as they do in trying to pull on visitor’s heartstrings and make them feel guilty the place may be more worth visiting.
Yes, this is a negative review – something I rarely write. As such a little background to my interest in, and experience with, Aboriginal art is warranted as I do not want to unduly put people off visiting Tandanya.
I am not an expert in Aboriginal art but, I have lived in the Northern Territory of Australia (Darwin) for a number of years. There I was exposed to quality Aboriginal art presented without an agenda, in museums, art galleries and in Aboriginal towns, etc where I met and engaged with many artists. I have also visited and enjoyed Aboriginal art displays in many museums and other venues in Australia.
Given this, I am not going to tell the visitor not to go here especially if it is your only option to see Aboriginal Art. If the latter applies then by all means visit Tandanya. It just didn’t do it for me.
Tandanya has three redeeming features:
1. It is free to enter
2. It is in quite a nice old early 1900s building formerly belonging to the Adelaide Electric Supply Company – worth a look in itself. That said, it looks better on the outside than on the inside
3. Outside the building (at the front) there are a number of art pieces engraved into the footpath including a red Kangaroo. As I think these are worthy a visit I have prepared a separate review on this art – “Tandanya- Street Art”.
My pictures attached are of the exterior of the Tandanya Gallery, except for the the last one below which is of another former Adelaide Electric Supply Company building behind the Gallery.
Location: 253 Grenfell Street
Telephone: 08 8224 3200
The following venues, both on North Terrace, are much superior in terms of Aboriginal artwork and I highly recommend both.