Some mysterious process

50 years of collecting international art

David Hockney, 'A closer winter tunnel, February-March', 2006, oil on 6 canvases (91.5 x 122 cm each), 190.5 x 381 cm overall. Collection of the Art Gallery of New South Wales, purchased with funds provided by Geoff and Vicki Ainsworth, the Florence and William Crosby Bequest and the Art Gallery of New South Wales Foundation 2007 © David Hockney Photo Credit: Richard Schmidt

Some mysterious process: 50 years of collecting international contemporary art

Curated by Gallery director Michael Brand

Questions of what and how the Gallery collects underpins this exhibition of highlights from the international contemporary art collection, all acquired over the past 50 years.

Explore the themes and a selection of the works.

About the exhibition

The title quotes American artist Philip Guston musing on the act of making art: ‘There’s some mysterious process at work here which I don’t even want to understand.’ Guston’s painting East tenth 1977, features in the exhibition which asks: how does a public art museum collect the products of such mysterious human activity?

Some mysterious process weaves together multiple threads of history to tell the story of how the international contemporary collection has come together — through the alchemy of planning and serendipity, curation and philanthropy, and the evolution of societal expectations. In doing so, this exhibition provides a platform for thinking about future collecting as we look ahead to the completion of the Sydney Modern Project with its significant new spaces.

Dana Schutz, 'Breastfeeding', 2015, oil on canvas. Art Gallery of New South Wales, purchased with funds provided by the 2015 USA Foundation Tour and the Mollie and Jim Gowing Bequest Fund 2016 © Dana Schutz

Dana Schutz, 'Breastfeeding’, 2015

At the beginning of her career, Dana Schutz’s intention was to paint things that were impossible. Using her seemingly limitless imagination as a starting point, Schutz asks questions – not about how an object or event looks, but examining instead how it feels. Over time her figurative paintings have become increasingly concerned with historical events, politics, popular culture and personal experience. In 'Breastfeeding', painted after the birth of her first child, Schutz illustrates a version of the maternal experience. Here, figures of mother and child appear to merge in a chaotic tangle of limbs; a wrestle between two forms that are barely recognisable as separate entities. One of the first paintings Schutz completed after her highly successful 'Fight in an elevator' exhibition in New York, 'Breastfeeding' was purchased in 2015 following an Art Gallery of New South Wales Foundation tour to the United States where the group met the artist.


Early years

Artworks from the early years of collecting international contemporary art at the Art Gallery of NSW

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Pop art

The international phenomenon of pop art and its ongoing impact and legacy

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Future directions

Looking to the future and the continuing expansion and diversification of the Gallery’s international collection

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