Gordon Bennett’s Home décor (after M Preston) #18 is displayed in the entrance court nearby, alongside other works from his Home décor series, lent to the Gallery for The National. The painting was purchased with the particular generous assistance from individual benefactors Peter Braithwaite, Gary Linnane and Michael Lao, Geoff and Jemma Brieger, Vicki Olsson and Alenka Tindale. Bennett came to prominence as a postmodern firebrand in the 1980s, and is regarded as one of the most relevant artists to emerge from Australia over the past few decades. Bennett created post-colonialist works which visually questioned the national narratives presented through representations of culture and identity. Home décor (after M Preston) #18 continues a series Bennett began in 1995 and returned to in 2010. It is one of the last paintings he completed before he died in mid-2014. Bennett references Margaret Preston’s use of Aboriginal motifs in her work and her push for an ‘Aboriginalised’ national imagery. In these vast, often brightly coloured canvases, Bennett overlays Preston’s Indigenous imagery with De Stijl compositions, recalling the strong influence of ‘primitivism’ throughout Western art of the 20th century (where Western artists adopted elements of non-Western art traditions). Bennett re-appropriates Preston’s Design from a Goolmary shield, North Queensland (1925), enlarging and re-orienting it. In doing so he invites us to question the ownership of imagery involved in cultural appropriation and to contemplate the moralities and meanings of plagiarism, authenticity and identity.
Bennett’s work forms an important post-colonialist counterpoint to the Indigenous-influenced, modernist works by Margaret Preston held in the collection. It also augments contemporary works by Indigenous artists Jonathan Jones and Reko Rennie which similarly draw upon traditional motifs of shields through a boldly graphic, contemporary execution.
The National brings together three of Sydney’s cultural institutions for a tour de force of Australia’s contemporary art scene. Similarly, the collaboration between Atelier and the Contemporary Collection Benefactors signals the groups’ shared interest in building the Gallery’s contemporary Australian art collection from strength to strength.