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Australian art returns to prominence at the Gallery

May 2012

Sidney Nolan First-class marksman 1946 Purchased with funds provided by Gleeson O’Keefe Foundation 2010 © The Trustees of the Sidney Nolan Trust

The collection of a public museum is its most enduring feature.

– Wayne Tunnicliffe, Head curator Australian art

A new display of the Art Gallery of New South Wales Australian collection opens on 12 May 2012. The presentation of one of the country’s finest collections of Australian art, from colonial to contemporary, has been revitalised for the Gallery’s expanded collection space.

The Australian galleries have been redesigned by a team including architect Richard Johnson, with an increased floor area and a new lighting system, allowing more of the collection to be displayed. Like all permanent galleries and most temporary exhibitions at the Art Gallery of NSW, visitors can enjoy the art for free.

The new Australian collection display presents some of the Gallery’s most famous and popular works of art in new contexts, highlights recent acquisitions and brings numerous works out of storage for the first time in years. Works across all media – paintings, sculpture, photography, video and prints – are included.

The Gallery’s iconic collection of 19th-century paintings returns to the Grand Courts, with favourite works by outstanding painters and sculptors, including Tom Roberts, Arthur Streeton, Bertram Mackennal, Frederic McCubbin and Emanuel Phillips Fox on display once again.

Contemporary art is included in the Australian galleries, linking art practices across time. James Angus’s Bugatti Type 35, 2006, a recent sculpture of a 1920s car, is paired with modern painter Grace Cossington Smith’s depiction of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, painted 1928–29. While over seventy years separates the making of these works, they both explore aspects of modern design and the accelerated speed of city life in the early 20th century.

Elioth Gruner’s much loved Spring frost 1919 is displayed with landscapes by Hans Heysen and Lloyd Rees in one of the Gallery’s most beautiful exhibition spaces, the Lowy Gonski Gallery. In the centre of this room Janet Laurence’s installation, The memory of nature 2010, gathers plant material, animal specimens and old scientific instruments in an evocative exploration of changing attitudes to nature.

More radical modernism in the 1920s and ’30s is represented by some of the most important paintings and photographs by Cossington Smith, Preston, de Maistre, and Max Dupain, alongside more ‘establishment’ Sydney painters Charles Meere, Herbert Badham and William Dobell. The Gallery’s exceptional holdings of key mid-20th-century artists Russell Drysdale, Sidney Nolan and Ian Fairweather are displayed in depth.

For the first time in the modern Australian galleries, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art has a significant presence. The magnificent Pukumani graveposts, acquired in 1959 from the Tiwi artists of Melville Island, are exhibited alongside seminal bark paintings by Mithinari Gurruwiwi, Wandjuk Marika and Muggurrawuy Yunupingu, and the work of artists influenced by Indigenous traditions, such as Tony Tuckson.

The development of abstraction in Australian art is comprehensively told, with works ranging from early cubist and constructivist paintings by Grace Crowley and Ralph Balson to the energy of 1960s hard-edge abstraction by Sydney Ball and Robert Rooney. Nearby, the rapid and exciting innovations of Australian pop, conceptual and performance art in the 1960s and ’70s link to the Gallery’s contemporary collection on lower level 2.

A new app for iPad

A new app for iPad features over 40 key collection works, with informative texts, fascinating archival images, curator and artist commentaries, and x-rays that reveal the secret past of some of the Gallery’s most famous paintings. The app can be viewed in the modern art lounge, a recreation of the 1972 smokers’ lounge, with beautiful views of the harbour, complete with original Corbusier chairs (but minus the ashtrays!).

The two Archibald-winning portraits of the late Margaret Olley by William Dobell in 1948 and Ben Quilty in 2011 will be on public display nearby, side by side for the first time.

Media contact

Claire Martin
Tel +61 2 9225 1734
Mob 0414 437 588
claire.martin@ag.nsw.gov.au