Stefano Spaccapietra – A Collector’s Vision – Australian Aboriginal Art – 17 septembre – 31 octobre 2013

   17 septembre – 31 octobre 2013  


A Collector’s Vision

Australian Aboriginal Art

from the Collection of Stefano Spaccapietra



In our last show in the series of “Artademics,” exhibits of work by faculty members, we offer you a different kind of perspective. It is a very beautiful and interesting privately owned body of work painted by Australian indigenous artists; art from Down Under seen through the eyes of a passionate collector.


Stefano Spaccapietra, EPFL professor emeritus of Computer Science, must have had an eye for recognizing beautiful art. His Italian descent may have something to do with it, paired with an early enthusiasm for travel to exotic places. “I like nice things, and I love beauty,” is how he tends to describe it. It all started with a trip to Cameroon, Africa. He met a development-aid, sent to Cameroon by the French government to teach, who showed him a piece of African art that he had bought. Stefano was immediately interested in the style of the work. “I never intended to become a collector, but this moment in Africa was life-changing. I returned to Africa later on, traveled to India and Mexico, frequented Japan, and became attentive to art wherever I went.”

Originally from Milan, Stefano went to Paris to finish an MA in Computer Science. He visited local museums and flea markets and made his first art purchase at a Parisian auction house. His interest in Australian art began through a contact with a gallery owner in Lyon who understood his interest in extra-European art. “He had just returned from Sydney with a collection of original Australian pieces and I became addicted at once.”


So much so that Stefano spent part of a sabbatical in Melbourne. He visited Sydney, Canberra and Adelaide, and went into the vast Australian desert. His first acquaintance with the Aboriginals came through an appointment with a local ranch owner who lived close to an aboriginal community. The farmer introduced him to a few artists. Stefano’s connections grew and his quest for indigenous art became so intense that on subsequent trips to Australia artists would welcome him at the airport. “All of a sudden I was this wealthy Swiss collector who flew in to buy art,” he smiles.


Aboriginal art has definitely evolved in time. “At first it was created through finger painting on cave walls, on bodies and in the sand,” he explains. “Much later the Western world introduced brushes. The dappled effect, ‘dot painting,’ prominent in much of today’s aboriginal art is done with the blunt end of the brush.”

The aboriginals also decorate bark, stone and fabrics. Traditionally they made their own paints using local natural ingredients, such as clay earth pigments; natural minerals that resulted in beautiful ochre, sienna and umber earth tones. The unique combination of these authentic earth tones and the cultural symbolism has touched human beings around the world.


The aboriginal people all have their own story; it may be personal, family-connected or tribe-related. What the art brings out are the tales of their ancestral past. Because the forefathers no longer live, paintings referring to their past are called “dream time” art. Archetypal symbols such as water, creation, and the tree of life are omnipresent in this art form.

Even today, while some artists have turned into masters of the abstract, those archetypes are still present. The aboriginal people have suffered through time; colonization and modern change have made it hard for them to hold their own and so the timeless symbols became even more important than before: they became representations of the connection and togetherness in their struggle for life. Though sometimes no longer visible the symbols are always painted first on any background. Regardless of what abstract imaging is painted over it, the artist knows that his or her life essence is there, the tenderness of the aboriginal signature, to be handed down for generations to come.


Enjoy the show!


Gusta van Dobbenburgh




A selection of Australian indigenous paintings

From the private collection of Stefano Spaccapietra

Show: September 17 – October 31, 2013

Location: Building ELA Room  010

Reception: Thursday, September 26, 18h00 – 20h00

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