In 1980 during a research trip to south-central Northern Territory, 122 boards were acquired from Papunya Tula Artists Inc, many of which are now nationally significant.
The collection includes works by Anatjari Tjakamarra, Old Tutuma Tjapangati, Tim Tjapaltjarri Leura, Old Mick Walangkari Tjakamarra, Walter Tjampitjinpa, Johnny Tjupurrula Warangkula, Charlie Tjungarrayi Tarawa, Mick Tjapaltjarri Namarari, Uta Uta Tjangala, Nosepeg Tjupurrula and Lungkarda Shorty Tjungarrayi.
The Museum’s research into the bourgeoning Western Desert movement and active collecting in the 1980s and 1990s resulted in two pioneering exhibitions: Dot and Circle: a retrospective survey of the Aboriginal acrylic paintings of Central Australia, 1986, in collaboration with Jenny Zimmer of Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology and Twenty-five years and Beyond: Papunya Tula Painting, 1999. The scholarly publications that accompanied the exhibitions are considered landmarks in the documentation of the origins of Western Desert art. More recently, early boards from the Museum’s collection were selected for the nationally significant exhibitions Tjukurrtjanu: origins of Western Desert art, 2011, curated by Judith Ryan and Philip Batty, and Streets of Papunya: the re-invention of Papunya painting, 2015, curated by Vivien Johnson which provide new scholarship on the Western Desert art movement.
The Museum follows protocols regarding display of the collection as recommended in the Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority’s Papunya Boards Assessment Report, commissioned by Alison Anderson for the Museums and Art Galleries of the Northern Territory in 2009, released in November 2012.