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AusSome Thursdays: the Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal art collection

University collection hosts weekly social event for University community

The Kluge-Ruhe Museum’s new weekly event “Thursdalia” combines food, drinks and socialization with Aboriginal art and art history to make for a refined Thursday evening.

Every Thursday beginning at 5:30 p.m., the museum hosts a free tour of its extensive collection of historical and contemporary Australian Aboriginal art, all followed by good food, alcohol — for those older than 21 years old — and a chance to roam the celebrated galleries. The event is geared toward the University community and is well worth the short trip out to the museum’s Pantops location.

While presenting the artist introductions in the front hall of the museum at last Thursday’s event, Smith also said the Kluge-Ruhe collection is the only museum in the United States that is devoted entirely to Australian Aboriginal art. “We’re so lucky to have it here at U.Va,” she said. “Our collection is a little different from others because we have a lot of historical work.”

The museum was given to the University by John Kluge and Ed Ruhe, who began collecting Aboriginal art in 1988 and 1965 respectively, said Margo Smith, director and curator of the collection. Eventually, Kluge bought the art Ruhe had been collecting, and both were then given to the University.

The museum is an intriguing amalgamation of historical and contemporary art, ranging from many of the better-known “dot paintings” to an exhibit of work from the only known aboriginal glass-blower, Yhonnie Scarce.

The museum, although small, successfully brings the history of the Australian aboriginal people to life. The art on display, especially the contemporary works, tells stories of colonization, racism, poverty and loss, but it also exudes a feeling of community and pride. Smith explained that being “Aboriginal” is not just about having ancestors who are Australian natives, but about feeling a part of the Aboriginal community and being accepted by it. Because of this definition, the artists are able to create works that incorporate contemporary objects or ideas, but still have an Aboriginal “feel” to them.

“Thursdalia” is a wonderful opportunity for anyone, regardless of whether or not he’s a well-read art scholar. The museum hosts live-in artists, so many of the works are inspired by the University or Charlottesville, making the art especially accessible for students. The museum is only about a 10-minute drive from the University, and for those who do not want to drive or don’t have a car, a shuttle leaves the University Chapel at 5:30 p.m. every Thursday and returns at 7 p.m. “Thursdalia” is an event everyone should try out this year, whether you’re interested in art, art history or just want to escape the hustle and bustle of Grounds for a few hours.