Ace Bourke is one of Australia’s leading independent art curators and is an Aboriginal Art and colonial art specialist. He has been an established figure in the art world since 1974.
He staged several important national and international exhibitions of Aboriginal art in the 1980s and 1990s, and has presented a series of seminal exhibitions at Sydney museums.
Flesh & Blood: A Story of Sydney 1788–1998 at the Museum of Sydney traced Ace’s family history in Australia from 1788. This exhibition led Ace to investigate his family history for the first time. Ancestors include Governor Philip Gidley King on his mother’s side and Governor Bourke on his father’s side, both early NSW Governors.
EORA: Mapping Aboriginal Sydney 1770–1850 co-curated at the Mitchell Library in 2006 from their colonial collection indentified for the first time many of the Aboriginals that had been immediately dispossessed in the Sydney area from 1788.
In 2008, Lines in the Sand: Botany Bay Stories from 1770 examined various Australian foundational narratives through colonial and contemporary artworks by Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists. This exhibition grew from Ace’s research for his Master of Arts degree where he began by analysing the journal of his great great great great grandfather Philip Gidley King, Second Lieutenant of The First Fleet to Australia in 1788 and, later Governor 1800–1806. The journal recorded the first encounters with Aboriginal people. The exhibition included colonial material and contemporary art works commenting on the events of 1770 (the arrival of Captain James Cook) and 1788 (the arrival of the First Fleet) by indigenous and non-indigenous artists.
These exhibitions have received critical acclaim for their innovative curatorship, the foregrounding of an Aboriginal perspective, and the questions they raise about interpretations of a shared history.
In 2009 Ace graduated with an MA (Research) from the University of Wollongong. His MA entitled Family Footprints: Tracing the Past in the Present through Curatorial Autobiographical Practice examined the innovative curatorship that has evolved from his synthesis of family, indigenous, and national narratives.
Ace was also Exhibition Coordinator on the exhibition Martin Sharp Sydney Artist. Martin is an Australian artist who lived in London in the 1960’s and is famous for creating posters and album covers for Bob Dylan, Cream and Jimi Hendrix. The exhibition was held at the Museum of Sydney in 2009.
Ace feels especially fortunate to have been associated with the development of the interest in Aboriginal Art, one of the outstanding art movements of the late 20th century, and is a supporter of their struggle for equality and self determination.
Ace is also the Chairperson of the Michael Riley Foundation (with Linda Burney and Hetti Perkins) which honours the late esteemed Aboriginal photographer.
Ace was born in Sydney, grew up in Newcastle NSW, and was educated at Sydney Church of England Grammar School. He completed a BA at the Australian National University. He travelled to London in 1969 a familiar path for Australians of that generation.
Within weeks of arriving in London he and a friend John Rendall saw a lion cub for sale in the Zoo at Harrods. The lion Christian would change the course of their lives.
He co-wrote A Lion Called Christian in 1970 (at the age of 24) and participated in a documentary production about Christian and his return to the wild in Kenya with George Adamson.
It was a clip of their reunion in Kenya one year later in 1971 that has caught the imagination of the world again nearly 40 years later on YouTube, and viewed by more than 100 million people.
A Lion Called Christian has been republished worldwide by Random House and in addition to reaching number 2 on the New York Times bestseller list, reached number 1 on the The Sunday Times (UK). A major studio deal is in discussion.
Ace is again immersing himself in wildlife and conservation projects, as we are facing such urgent global environmental issues.