The National 2017: New Australian Art – A Historical Future

The National Cover
1 YHONNIE SCARCE CLOSE UP

Yhonnie Scarce, Death Zephyr (detail) 2017, hand blown glass yams, nylon and steel armature, dimensions variable, Courtesy the artist, Melbourne and THIS IS NO FANTASY + dianne tanzer gallery, Melbourne, © Yhonnie Scarce

Three of Sydney’s premiere cultural institutions, the Art Gallery of New South Wales, the Museum of Contemporary Art, and Carriageworks, have come together to present a single exhibition The National 2017: New Australian Art, the first in a series of three biennial surveys. This is a landmark project which provides a major focus on Australian art of our time. Through exhibitions in 2017, 2019 and 2021, this new partnership will exhibit the work of 150 artists.

Marco Fusinato, Mass Black Implosion (Treatise, Cornelius Cardew) (detail), 2013, ink on archival facsimile of score, images courtesy the artist and Anna Schwartz Gallery © the artist

Marco Fusinato, Mass Black Implosion (Treatise, Cornelius Cardew) (detail), 2013, ink on archival facsimile of score, images courtesy the artist and Anna Schwartz Gallery © the artist

The collaboration has resulted in an exhibition that would not have been otherwise possible, in terms of scale or curatorial scope. It is presented as a single exhibition across three institutions, but has been developed collectively. New works have been commissioned, and recent works are shown, in a project which has enabled the cultivation of close relationships between curators and artists, as well as between the institutions.

3 ALEX GAWRONSKI

Alex Gawronski, Threshold from the series Ghosts 2017, steel, PVC, bitumen, MDF, timber, synthetic polymer paint, oil paint, 567 x 1150 x 210 cm (overall, irreg.), Courtesy the artist, © Alex Gawronski

A number of pieces have been commissioned as part of the project, including two major commissions. Sydney-based Alex Gawronski has created three installations, one for each of the three galleries, that transpose architectural elements of each institution into another. And Agatha Gothe-Snape has begun a film project that will develop from 2016 to 2021. Both these are sure to be drawcards, and will require visits to all three sites, as well as across time.

4 AGATHA

Agatha Gothe-Snape, The Fatal Sure/The National Doubt, 2016-21, Installation view, The National 2017, Carriageworks. Image: Zan Wimberley

The art within The National 2017 is not presented as any sort of identifiably ‘national’ art, nor is it making any kind of statement on national tendencies, characteristics or identities. The curators of the exhibition: Anneke Jaspers and Wayne Tunnicliffe at the AGNSW, Lisa Havilah and Nina Miall at Carriageworks and Blair French at the MCA, go so far as to imply there is a provocation in the title ‘The National’ as a result. Three essayists – Sunil Badami, Daniel Browning and Helen Hughes – have been commissioned to comment on the general concept of art in Australia, to further crystallise the nuances of what it means to make art from and for an Australian context at this point in time.

Erin Coates, The Last Climber Alive Must Keep Herself Fit and Ready (still), 2014, single-channel video, 5:41 minutes, image courtesy and © the artist

Erin Coates, The Last Climber Alive Must Keep Herself Fit and Ready (still), 2014, single-channel video, 5:41 minutes, image courtesy and © the artist

The essayists Badami, Browning and Hughes, their writings present within The National 2017: New Australian Art catalogue, explore the concept of Australia as an entity forever under construction, a nation built on violence, and how this has affected the evolution of art and art history in Australia since the coming of the Europeans. A number of artists, from a variety of backgrounds, further contemplate this concept, as they present their interpretation of their own lived experience and the experiences of their communities.

6 YHONNIE SCARCE

Yhonnie Scarce, Death Zephyr 2017, hand blown glass yams, nylon and steel armature, dimensions variable, Courtesy the artist, Melbourne and THIS IS NO FANTASY + dianne tanzer gallery, Melbourne, © Yhonnie Scarce

One such artist is Yhonnie Scarce. Born in Woomera, South Australia, and belonging to the Kokatha and Nukunu peoples, she works primarily with glass, addressing historical events and government policies which have resulted in disrupted Aboriginal life. A new installation commissioned for The National 2017 sees Scarce explore the tragic outcomes of the British nuclear tests conducted in Maralinga, South Australia in the 1950s and 60s. Death Zephyr, on display at the AGNSW, is a beautiful but heartbreaking work which draws to light the ongoing effects of the testing, including displacement of a number of Indigenous communities (comprising Scarce’s ancestors), as well as the illness and death resulting from radiation fallout.

Gordon Bennett, artworks from Home Decor (after M. Preston) 2012, synthetic polymer paint on linen, © Gordon Bennett

Gordon Bennett, artworks from Home Decor (after M. Preston) 2012, synthetic polymer paint on linen, © Gordon Bennett

Home Décor (after M. Preston), the final series from artist Gordon Bennett, who passed away in 2014, presents a different view of Australia, just as thought-provoking and unsettling. This series, also on display at the AGNSW, is appropriated from the work of Australian modernist artist Margaret Preston, who herself appropriated Indigenous art in the 1920s and 30s to create a variety of works, and who suggested that her art might look good on placemats, cushions, and all manner of homewares. Bennett has ‘re-appropriated’ these works into large scale works, giving them the impression of ambitious formalist paintings. As curator Wayne Tunnicliffe describes, Bennett “points to the troubled history of modernism’s search for an authentic national ‘self’ and shows how something as simple as home décor can resonate with nation-building ideologies and enterprises, as well as with unresolved issues and tensions around race relations and national identity in Australia today.”

Jemima Wyman, Aggregate Icon (Rosetta RBW) from centre to periphery, clockwise: Pro-Palestinian protesters, West Bank, 11th October 2015 (red and black keffiyehs), Protester against government labor law reforms, Nantes, France, 2nd June 2016 (tear gas return), Supporter of Michael Brown, Ferguson, Missouri, 10th August 2014 (dreadlocks) … (process image), 2017, adhesive woven wallpaper, Image courtesy the artist, Sullivan+Strumpf and Milani Gallery © the artist

Jemima Wyman, Aggregate Icon (Rosetta RBW) from centre to periphery, clockwise: Pro-Palestinian protesters, West Bank, 11th October 2015 (red and black keffiyehs), Protester against government labor law reforms, Nantes, France, 2nd June 2016 (tear gas return), Supporter of Michael Brown, Ferguson, Missouri, 10th August 2014 (dreadlocks) … (process image), 2017, adhesive woven wallpaper, Image courtesy the artist, Sullivan+Strumpf and Milani Gallery © the artist

Aggregate Icon (Rosetta RBW), by LA-based Australian artist Jemima Wyman is on display at Carriageworks, a very timely piece documenting protest. It illustrates the importance of the group as well as the importance of each individual in coming together to create the group, as well as the possibilities of art to bring about social change.

Jemima Wyman,Aaggregate Icon [RBW]…, Installation view, The National 2017, Carriageworks. Image: Zan Wimberley

Jemima Wyman,Aaggregate Icon [RBW]…, Installation view, The National 2017, Carriageworks. Image: Zan Wimberley

Potentially controversially, this work takes the shape of a Catherine or rose window, inspired by the Gothic cathedrals of Europe, but with a twist, as a spiral is incorporated within the design. The Catherine windows of these great churches were considered to be a channel for worshippers to move beyond life on earth and enter the realm of the divine, and the placement of this modern interpretation within the 19th industrial rail shed that is Carriageworks invites questions and contemplation of significance of protest as well as the surrounding architecture.

Matthew Bradley, One Hundred Vessels 2015–, cast bronze, aluminium, furnace, gas hose and regulator, propane burner, foundry tools, crucible, gas tanks, Images courtesy the artist and GAGPROJECTS/Greenaway Art Gallery © the artist, Photographs: Grant Hancock

Matthew Bradley, One Hundred Vessels 2015–, cast bronze, aluminium, furnace, gas hose and regulator, propane burner, foundry tools, crucible, gas tanks, Images courtesy the artist and GAGPROJECTS/Greenaway Art Gallery © the artist, Photographs: Grant Hancock

An intriguing set of works on display at the MCA is One Hundred Vessels by Matthew Bradley. This work is less overtly political than some of the other art on display in The National 2017, but nevertheless is still aesthetically delightful and insightful. The artist set about creating one hundred metal cast vessels, one hundred being the number which might be the measure of practise required to attain a good degree of competence working with intricate designs. An extensive selection of vessels, cast in bronze, aluminium or copper, are on display, including a number of the failed vessels, which very much adds to the melee. The attainment of competence is only achieved through trial and error, but the inclusion of the failed vessels hints that human existence is vulnerable on many fronts, with potential collapse possible at any time.

Rose Nolan, Big Words – To keep going, breathing helps (circle work), 2016–17, installation view, The National 2017: New Australian Art, Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, Sydney, synthetic polymer paint, hessian, velcro, steel, supported by the Victorian Government through Creative Victoria, image courtesy the artist and Anna Schwartz Gallery © the artist, photograph: Ken Leanfore

Rose Nolan, Big Words – To keep going, breathing helps (circle work), 2016–17, installation view, The National 2017: New Australian Art, Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, Sydney, synthetic polymer paint, hessian, velcro, steel, supported by the Victorian Government through Creative Victoria, image courtesy the artist and Anna Schwartz Gallery © the artist, photograph: Ken Leanfore

The wide array of artists and ideas on display at The National 2017: New Australian Art, now showing until July, 2017 is truly a great initiative. One that sees Australian art and artists coming into the fore, showcasing their ingenuity, and forging a new identity for Australian art, however broad that might be.

12 EMILY FLOYD

Emily Floyd, Kesh alphabet 2017, aluminium, two part epoxy paint, steel fixtures, screen prints on paper, dimensions variable, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Atelier and Contemporary Collection Benefactors 2016, © Emily Floyd

The National 2017: New Australian Art has benefitted from ongoing support from the NSW Government through Arts NSW and the Australian Government through the Australia Council for the Arts. AGNSW has partnered with Aqualand, Carriageworks has partnered with Westpac, and MCA has partnered with Neilson Foundation to ensure this great exhibition is possible.

Belinda McDowall, Deputy Editor and Special Features, The Culture Concept Circle, 2017

The National 2017: New Australian Art

30 March – 16 July 2017

Art Gallery of New South Wales

30 March – 16 July 2017

Carriageworks

30 March – 25 June 2017

Museum of Contemporary Art

30 March – 18 June 2017

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