CONTEMPORARY AUSTRALIA: WOMEN
VOGUE AUSTRALIA, MAY 2012
There are many ways to provide an explanation, but only one truly captures the imagination: “the time is right.”
This month, Queensland’s Gallery of Modern Art will present Contemporary Australia: Women, the second in the gallery’s triennial series. The group exhibition, featuring works both familiar and new from emerging and established Australian female artists, could well be the largest and most comprehensive of its kind in the country’s history.
“I think there’s a renewed appreciation of the contributions and interventions that women working as artists have made to the landscape of contemporary art in the last few decades,” says Julie Ewington, the exhibition’s curator and Head of Australian Art at GoMA. “And Australian artists deserve to be seen in this broad frame – they’re up there!”
It is a testament to Ewington’s curatorial savvy that the list of participating artists, while almost dizzyingly diverse, does not appear haphazard. Variations in experience, media and subject matter point to an originality that is somehow uniform.
“Every exhibition grows organically as conversations between the selected works develop, but with this show we were guided by some key ideas,” says Ewington. “[These are] that one performs femininity or performs as a woman; the place of personal and intimate spheres – such as sexuality, the body, motherhood and ageing – in work by women; the use of everyday materials, whether domestic or personal; the ways women are ‘redressing the canon’ of painting. From the beginning, the exhibition was committed to aspects of works by women that directly address the many political and social issues that continue to concern us.”
To look at the names of the artists in Contemporary Australia: Women is to see a series of interchangeable counterpoints: Gosia Wlodarczak’s frenetic drawing installations challenge the cohesive forms and block colours of mixed media artist Louise Weaver; Brown Council’s direct, often confrontational style of performance contrast Judith Wright’s implicit explorations of the body in motion.
While many works will take up a wall or a corner, others – such as that of Rose Nolan – will alter GoMA’s spatial dynamics entirely. Expanding on a work exhibited at Anna Schwartz Gallery in 2009, Nolan will suspend a 28 metre hessian corridor underneath GoMa’s main balcony.
“One of the main interests for me is about extending the possibilities for painting beyond the singular art object,” says Nolan. “I’m interested in how a work of art can both transform and be transformed by the space in which it’s located and its relationship to the viewer.”
Among the other works specially commissioned for the show are six major paintings by the Tjala Arts group based at Amata in South Australia.
“In 2011 [Tjala Arts] became noticed for collaborative paintings involving a number of community members,” says Ewington. “[This was] a fine opportunity to offer the women of the group a chance to collaborate again and they took to the project with gusto… a wonderful response to the invitation for the women to show together with other women.”
Natalya Hughes – whose work The After Party, which occupies an entire room, includes painting, animation and sculptural components – says it is this possibility that spoke to her as a participant.
“I’m particularly enthusiastic about having the work sit alongside the contributions of other contemporary Australian women artists,” says Hughes. “I’m also interested in how it will be situated in relation to the history of feminist art production. That is a history that has long been of interest to me, even if it isn’t something I have always directly engaged with in my work.”
“In the arts, Australian women got involved with the feminist questioning of the status quo of the 1970s quite early,” says Ewington. “And very particular to Australia, too, there’s the prominence of so many remarkable Indigenous women – as activists, as artists, as cultural leaders – who have been making great work for decades now. This shows up today, in the enormous breadth of the work we considered for Contemporary Australia: Women.”