Explore a world of art, including Australian art from colonial to present day, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art, old masters, Asian and contemporary art. Suitable for 5-12 year olds (with an adult).
Welcome to the Kids tour
Puck on a toadstool
The Sea Hath Its Pearls
Snowdrop and the seven little men
The visit of the Queen of Sheba to King Solomon
When contemplating this picture it is useful to bear in mind that the second half of the nineteenth century was a period remarkable for archaeological researches and discoveries, especially by English expeditions. The British Museum was a treasure house of antiquities increasingly valued by artists as a reference library. Egypt and the Middle East replaced Greece and Italy as the focus of curiosity. 'The visit of the Queen of Sheba to King Solomon' can be contextualised against a craze for orientalist narratives in literature, music and visual art. The wildly composite architectural system of Solomon's temple is reprised in the frame, which bridges the temporal and spatial distance between viewer and subject. The artist has been so obsessed with the accuracy of his details, however, that the figures seem somewhat doll-like. Trained in Paris under Gleyre, Poynter was at heart a Salonist for whom artistry resided in weight of detail rather than dramatic synthesis. AGNSW Handbook, 1999.
The snake charmer
'Sydney Heads', the only known Sydney subject by the artist, is a product of von Guérard's first and only excursion into New South Wales in November 1859, when he visited Sydney, the Blue Mountains and the Illawarra region. The painting was worked up in his studio in Melbourne six years later, most likely on the basis of a preparatory drawing now in the State Library of New South Wales, Sydney. Von Guérard's atmospheric rendering of this light-filled scene, together with his sensitive and precise depiction of topographical detail and human activity within a tightly controlled composition, makes 'Sydney Heads' one of his finest paintings. Von Guérard reverted to the composition of the drawing in his 1865 painting of the view - flattening the foreground slope and decreasing the North/South breadth of the Harbour and scale of the hills beyond Manly to increase a sense of space and grandeur. Addition of a tree to the left of Vaucluse Bay provided a picturesque framing device, whilst he also transformed the rough heathland of his 1860 painting to elegantly grassed slopes - perhaps to appeal to a contemporary preference for countryside of a more tamed, European appearance. Details such as the group of figures around a fire at right, added foreground interest - improving the overall balance of the composition. He bathed the scene with the rose-tinted light of late afternoon, clearly intending an altogether more luminous and poetic impression than in his painting of 1860. Von Guérard's painting, 'Sydney Heads' 1865, with its combination of elevated sentiment and remote and wild, yet partly civilised subject, relates to both homestead portraits and wilderness views in his oeuvre. As such the work takes its place within a wider international context of European artistic engagement with newly colonised lands, finding particular parallels for example with the contemporaneous work of the 'Hudson River School' artists in America. As Joan Kerr, Australian colonial art historian, comments in the catalogue to The Artist and the patron exhibition (1988), picturing the harbour 'was an almost obligatory subject for amateur and professional alike…This was not only "the most beautiful harbour in the world" it was the first sight of the new land for many arrivals and the first step towards regaining the ancestral home for many departures'. In Eugene von Guérard's 'Australian Landscapes', containing twenty four colour lithographs of landscape views (published by Hamal and Ferguson, c.1867 - 68), plate XXII 'Sydney Heads, New South Wales' is described thus; 'From the summit of a knoll on the roadside from Sydney to the narrow promontory known as the South Head, is visible the lovely prospect depicted by our artist ... The road to the South Head is deservedly a favourite drive with the inhabitants of Sydney, and the stranger passing over it for the first time experiences a succession of demands upon his admiration, as each bend in the road discloses to him some new combination of sea and shore and sky, each lovelier than the last'. The various extant versions of the painting and the lithograph which was the last work to be completed of the subject by von Guérard, offer a number of interpretations of the pencil drawing. Focusing on what has been described as one of several classic views encompassing Sydney Harbour's quintessential qualities, and painted by innumerable artists, von Guérard's 'Sydney Heads' depicts a broad sweep of landscape from Vaucluse Bay on the left to Watson's Bay and Sydney Heads at the right, with the road to the South Head in the foreground. Despite partial screening by vegetation and buildings, the accuracy of his transcription of the view may be confirmed today from the vicinity of 'Johnston's Lookout' in Vaucluse, the probable viewpoint for the artist's preparatory drawing. However, whilst clearly concerned with accurately and informatively depicting a view already well known for its 'picturesque' synthesis of grandeur and beauty, von Guérard also aimed to transcend mere topography. Von Guérard scholar Candice Bruce suggests that during the artist's training at the Kunstakademie in Dusseldorf (c.1839 - c.1846) he probably saw the work of the principal German Romantic painter Caspar David Friedrich, whose style and mood his work later evoked, and became familiar with treatises by the main exponents of German Romanticism, Carl Gustav Carus (1789-1869) and 'Novalis' [dates]. The influence of von Guérard's earlier teacher in Rome, Giovannibattista Bassi - who taught in the traditions of Salvator Rosa, Poussin and Claude - also encouraged an interest in concepts of 'the sublime' and 'the picturesque' in art. In the newly established landscape class at the Academy, von Guérard was encouraged to go on long sketching trips in pursuit of the new naturalism or 'Naturegetreue wiedergabe' (a response true to nature). For the German Romantic landscape painter, each painting was an 'Erdlebensbildnis' or painting of the life of the earth, in which a focus on the microcosmic details of nature led to an awareness of the macrocosmic presence of the soul of the world. No detail was inessential. Hence von Guérard's attention to detail, visible particularly in the painting of the foreground trees and shrubs, which was typical of his practice, and demonstrated the specific influence of the German 'Nazarene' painters with whom he had also enjoyed some contact in Rome. A key belief of the German Romantic painters was that painting should be an expression of personal insight into the divine qualities perceived in nature. In 'Sydney Heads', von Guérard celebrated with semi-religious reverence, the sublime beauty of the scene. Selecting an elevated viewpoint affording a panorama of the harbour and its surrounds, the artist aimed to inspire a sense of awe and wonder in the viewer by accentuating the vastness of the sky and by implication, suggesting the great expanses of the world beyond. [Helen Campbell, 'Eugene von Guérard - Sydney Heads 1865', Australian Collection Focus Series, AGNSW, 1999]
The flood in the Darling 1890
'The flood in the Darling 1890' is one of several ambitious canvases painted by WC Piguenit in response to the devastating rains that inundated the western region of New South Wales in 1890. It reflects his respect for the terrifying yet sublime power of nature so admired by exponents of 19th-century German Romantic painting. The largest flood recorded since 1864, waters broke the embankment and submerged the remote township of Bourke – an event Piguenit witnessed first hand. However, rather than depicting the destroyed buildings and railway lines, and the loss of livestock and human life, he has rendered the calm after the deluge. A vast expanse of sky, land and water is rendered as a symphonic celebration, with billowing purplish-hued clouds reflected across a vast glistening expanse reaching towards the viewer – ibises the only living creatures populating the tranquil landscape. Son of a convict transported to Van Diemen's Land in 1830, William Charles Piguenit was raised and schooled in Hobart, and spent 22 years working in the Department of Lands survey office as a draughtsman. Although he received rudimentary instruction in painting, he was largely self taught. After leaving the survey office in 1872, he began making sketching and photography trips to remote and spectacular regions in the Tasmanian wilderness. He achieved early success through public patronage when he exhibited his works in the annual Sydney and Melbourne academy shows. His striking 'Mount Olympus, Lake St Clair, Tasmania, source of the Derwent' was the first work by an Australian-born artist to be acquired, in 1875, by the Art Gallery of New South Wales. That same year, Piguenit joined an artists and photographers camp in the Grose Valley in the Blue Mountains. By 1880 Piguenit had settled in Sydney with his family. Continued patronage by the Gallery enabled him to tour New South Wales and Tasmania, providing fresh inspiration for his grand, sweeping landscapes and measured studies of the natural environment. Piguenit continued his successful career well into the 20th century, including the completion, in 1903, of the commanding 'Mount Kosciusko' which was commissioned by the trustees of this Gallery; the majestic depiction of the continent’s highest peak marking the enormity of the Federation of Australia in 1901.
The Golden Fleece
Tom Roberts painted 'The Golden Fleece' while staying at Newstead Station in the New England tablelands of northern NSW. It is part of a series in which Roberts payed homage to rural life and pastoral industry, and captured vanishing traditions such as the use of manual shears. Originally called 'Shearing at Newstead', this painting was renamed to reference the Greek myth in which the Argonauts voyage to the end of the world in search of the Golden Fleece. The title reflects Roberts' creation of the rural worker as 'hero', and his evocation of Australia as an Arcadian land of pastoral plenty. The work's frame is attributed to John Thallon, the famous 19th-century Melbourne carver and gilder, and was restored in 2010.
Tom Roberts conceived the idea of a bushranger picture while he was staying at Inverell in northern NSW. He painted 'Bailed up' largely en plein air. It tells as much of the qualities of the local landscape as of its staged drama. Roberts superbly captures the summer heat conditions, which render to stillness the dramatic circumstances of a Cobb & Co hold up. The scene was painted from a purpose-built platform in a stringy bark tree, giving the work its high vantage point. Roberts modelled the figures on Inverell townspeople, including stagecoach driver 'Silent Bob Bates' who had been held up by local bushranger 'Captain Thunderbolt' three decades earlier.
Across the black soil plains
Inspired by his experiences as a youth in the bush near Warren, NSW, George W Lambert began this ambitious work at the age of 26, while living with his mother at Hornsby. He worked in a small shed in the garden, and had to position the painting diagonally across it, even then unable to stretch the canvas to its full extent. The painting was enthusiastically received as a heroic portrayal of bush life, displaying Lambert's innate skill at draughtsmanship. It was awarded the Wynne Prize for landscape painting for 1899, and the following year Lambert left for London with the first New South Wales Society of Artists Travelling Scholarship. This work was acquired by the Gallery in 1899.
Holiday in Essex
Awarded the Wynne Prize in 1919 and painted the same year as Roland Wakelin's and Roy de Maistre's experiments in colour harmony, 'Spring frost' is one of Elioth Gruner's most critically acclaimed achievements. With its impeccable sense of light and tone, and its vigorous foreground brushwork, 'Spring frost' is a tour de force, and perhaps the most loved Australian landscape painting in the Gallery. Elioth Gruner painted 'Spring frost' according to 19th-century plein-air conventions, but the work also demonstrates a contemporary succinctness of form. To complete the painting - one of his largest compositions - en plein air, Gruner built a structure to protect the canvas from the weather, and wrapped his legs with chaff bags to avoid frostbite. Although painted largely outdoors at Emu Plains, its large size and somewhat theatrical quality make it likely that Gruner completed parts of it later, in his city studio. This work was acquired by the Gallery in 1939.
Rusty Peters, like many East Kimberley painters, spent his youth working as a stockman on cattle stations throughout the Kimberley, and earned a reputation as an accomplished horse breaker. Along with other Gija community elders, Peters was influential in establishing the Ngalangangpum bicultural school – the first school at the main Gija community Warmun (Turkey Creek) – ensuring that instruction in Gija law and culture was prominent in the curriculum. In 1989, Peters moved to Kununurra, where he worked as an assistant at Waringarri Aboriginal Arts, a community owned Aboriginal art cooperative. He often worked closely with Rover Thomas, the East Kimberley's most renowned painter and a co-founder of the regional contemporary painting movement. Although Peters occasionally produced small canvases during this period, he did not begin painting in earnest until 1998, after he had left Waringarri to join the newly founded Jirrawun Aboriginal Arts. Since then he has had a series of successful group and solo exhibitions, including the 2000-02 travelling exhibition 'Two Laws ... One Big Spirit', in which he collaborated with artist Peter Adsett. In his most ambitious canvas to date, the immense, twelve-metre long 'Waterbrain', 2002, Peters departs from the specific themes of country and Ngarrangkarni that normally form the focus of East Kimberley painting. Instead, he chooses to explore the cycle of life and learning that is universal to all peoples. Read from left to right, the canvas presents a chronology of the process of birth, growth and learning from conception to adulthood. At the lower left are waterweeds among which, according to Gija belief, the spirits of unborn children reside before entering the mothers womb to become the spirits of human beings. The next panels deal with birth and infancy, when a child moves from crawling, to walking, to running, although his or her brain has yet to begin to absorb the teachings of his or her culture. The large circular motif at the centre shows the adult brain – the child has grown up and is beginning to have his or her own ideas. The next panels deal with the education that transforms a child into a full member of adult society. As a symbol of the culmination of the individual's education. in the final panels Peters depicts the artefacts his elders taught him to make and which, before the coming of European settlers, all Gija men needed to know how to create in order to survive. Eric Kjellgren in 'Tradition today: Indigenous art in Australia', Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 2004 © Art Gallery of New South Wales
Nyamiyukanji, the river country
Tutini (Pukumani grave posts)
Buluwana was a woman of Wumuddjan subsection, and one of the first people to inhabit the Kurulk clan region at Ngandarrayo. The Ngandarrayo site is on a large escarpment outlier. The camping places along this outlier are rich in rock art. During the time of great drought, Buluwana and her family were camped at Ngandarrayo. They were weak from thirst, and close to death, when the group was confronted by the malevolent gigantic form of the Death Adder snake. Buluwana tried to run away with the rest of her family, but was crushed and turned to stone. An arrangement of rocks still remains in the ground as Buluwana's present-day form. Only her head protrudes as a prismic standing stone - the rest ofher body is under the ground. Other human remains lying on rock ledges are said to be those of more early ancestors. The Ngandarrayo site is a place of great significance to people of the Kurulk and Kulmarru clans, and is classed as a highly sacred and dangerous place. from Hetti Perkins et al., 'Crossing country: the alchemy of Western Arnhem Land art', Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 2004
The title comes from newspaper reports of red algae blooms appearing in Sydney Harbour because of too much nitrogen in the water. Watson associated the deadly red blooms with whaling and the sites of Aboriginal massacres where the waters turned red with blood. The work was created for the 1997 Biennale in Venice, another water city where the 'sound of the water is everywhere, especially at high tide, you can hear the waves against the buildings, licking history away'. Her work is about 'memories washing over me', whether the tidal flow of stories from her grandmother's country in Queensland or the history of her Sydney Harbour home - the recurring wash of private and public memory. Peter Emmett, 'Sydney: metropolis, suburb, harbour', 2000
Gunmirringu funeral scene
Dr David Malangi was born in central Arnhem Land the year after the Methodist Mission was established at Milingimbi. His early years were spent in this area, where he received initiation into Manyarrngu culture from his parents and extended family. He began painting in earnest after World War II. In Australia, Malangi is probably best known as the artist whose work was featured, without his knowledge or permission, on the one dollar note in 1966. He was also one of the first Aboriginal artists to have his work included in an international exhibition of contemporary art, at the Biennale of Sydney in 1979. In 1988 he collaborated on The Aboriginal Memorial – a group Of 200 log coffins now on permanent display at the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra – to mark 200 years of European occupation of Australia. Malangi was honoured with the Australia Council Emeritus Award in 1998. 'Gunmirringu funeral scene', 1983, was one of eight bark paintings that the artist exhibited in the 1983 Australian Perspecta at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, as an incontrovertible land rights statement. The works were created and put together after discussions with the artist about his concerns for the safety of his sacred sites, under threat from mining and commercial fishing. Gunmirringu, the great ancestral hunter, is central in Malangi's art. Here, Gunmirringu is shown lying in state. His clansmen are around him, holding clapsticks, singing ceremonial songs and dancing. Darrpa, the deadly brown snake, which bit and killed Gunmirringu, is shown alongside. Around him also are the spoils of his last hunt: yams, nuts and a butchered kangaroo, which commonly refers to the death of a person. Gunmurringu's was the first funeral, and this story tells of how death came into the world. It is enacted through ceremony and art to assist the passage of the soul after a member of the clan dies. In this composition, the ceremony is framed within two flowering stringy bark trees. These trees often refer to the raga, or white berry bush, under which Gunmirringu sat, cooking his food, when the snake struck. The beautiful small bark, 'Food pattern of trees', is a more direct reference to the raga. It is a much earlier painting than 'Gunmirringu funeral scene'. Its overall design is more intricately wrought and its colours softer than later, more characteristic, barks by Malangi. Steven Miller in 'Tradition today: Indigenous art in Australia', Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 2004 © Art Gallery of New South Wales
River mouth map
This Dhamala is the river mouth where there are different types of shells and fish, then the same area, maybe two creeks. Datam – waterlily roots; Rakay, circle (water chesnut); freshwater but in the saltwater on a mud flat. This is our traditional area and that is why we don’t want any mining or balanda fishing there. The river where we were walking is where our dreamings are. We have grown up with our culture and have kept it. Our sacred sites, our ceremonies, and secret dreamings. My people and ancestors have lived here for a long time. In other areas too people's ancestry goes back a long way – people still retain their laws and their culture and land. Description of painting from upper left corner, Left hand side referes to the Ngurrunyuwa (eastern bank of the river) – Garangala Rock with Lunggu, Glyde River, Raga nuts, Creeks, Beach were Gunmirringu sat, Sea eagle tree, Conch shell. The right hand side of the bark refers to Dhamala (the western side of the bank), from upper right – Milmindjarrk waterhole, Bilma (clapsticks), Dhona (sacred digging stick), mud skipper, catfish. [Art Centre documentation]
The curve of the bridge
Throughout its construction, which was completed in 1932, the Sydney Harbour Bridge inspired many artists to redefine their visions of the city and the harbour by incorporating this new industrial structure. This painting shows the massive frame-work in mid-construction, emerging from the shores of North Sydney. It reveals Grace Cossington Smith’s view of the bridge as a dynamic work-in-progress. In a powerful translation of forms through colour and light, the painting radiates optimism and energy in a celebration of modern engineering and, more broadly, the modern age. The artist made many pencil studies onsite, which she inscribed with notes on colour, took back to her studio and transformed into an iconic expression of Sydney’s most enduring urban monument.
Australian beach pattern
Charles Meere was one of a group of Sydney artists whose work modernised classical artistic traditions as a means of depicting national life during the inter-war period. The epitome of his vision is Australian beach pattern, a tableau of beach goers whose athletic perfection takes on monumental, heroic proportions. Meere created a crowded and complex composition through the pattern of figures, which appears as a still-life of suspended strength. This iconic painting encapsulates the myth of the healthy young nation symbolised by the tanned, god-like bodies of the sunbathers. This work was a finalist in the 1940 Sulman Prize and was acquired by the Gallery in 1965.
Five bells was my first commission to paint in situ to cover a wall … I didn’t hesitate. I brushed a line around the core theme, the seed-burst, the life-burst, the sea-harbour, the source of life. Inside and around this core, I painted images drawn from metaphors and similes in [Kenneth] Slessor’s poem of our harbour city, and from my own emotional and physical involvement with the harbour, and with my young family in Watsons Bay … I wanted to show the Harbour as a movement, a sea suck, and the sound of the water as though I am part of the sea ... The painting says directly what I wanted to say: ‘I am in the sea-harbour, and the sea-harbour is in me’. John Olsen, 1999
Matisse at Ashford
A pair of tomb guardian figures
Chinese scholar's set
Chinese scholar’s set with inkstone, brush rest, ceramic water dropper and seal
Japanese art sword and court mount 1751
On loan courtesy Colin McDonald
Nô theatre costume
Woman of Venice VII
Von den Verlorenen gerührt, die der Glaube nicht trug, erwachen die Trommeln im Fluss
'Von den Verlorenen gerührt, die der Glaube nicht trug, erwachen die Trommeln im Fluss' is the title of each of two works, one painting and one floor installation. It is not uncommon for Kiefer to use the same titles again and again. This is because of his sustained commitment to certain themes that he pursues over many years. These two works represent two such themes in Kiefer's development and although they look very different as objects they are two sides of one key idea in his mature work. The horizon in Kiefer's work is always more than a landscape feature, it is highly charged symbolically. 'Glaube, Hoffnung, Liebe' 1984-86 in the Gallery's collection includes a propeller which has the potential to fly over the horizon transcending the boundary between heaven and earth. In many of Kiefer's paintings and sculptures there are ladders, wings, rockets, Ziggurats, snakes and rainbows that all in some way suggest the idea of transcendence. The broken stairs in 'Von den Verlorenen gerührt...' correspond to the broken propeller suggesting the dream of climbing above the horizon and yet it is a dream that is doomed to fail. This ambivalence towards transcendental aspiration is common to much art of the late twentieth century. For example Ken Unsworth's sculpture 'Rapture' 1994 in the Gallery's collection takes the form of a stairway to heaven frustrated when the stairs made of the keyboards of a grand piano arrive at the body of the piano which is stuffed with straw and will never sound the music of the spheres. The floor installation belongs to a body of works that reverse the passage between heaven and the earth. This is often represented by emanations from above sometimes in the form of poured lead attached to a painting or hanging in space like the finger of God. Many of Kiefer's recent works have more to do with the stars which according to the 16th century philosopher Robert Fludd each have their equivalent in a flower on the earth. Here we see a pile of glass plates that have fallen as a shower over piles of human hair (material human presence). Inscribed with one of 9000 star numbers, each piece of glass represents a heavenly intervention or emanation. Human hair is woven throughout the glass in a reference to the Egyptian Queen Berenice, who often appears in Kiefer’s works in the form of long locks of hair. Berenice was famous for her beauty and as an offering to the gods to bring her husband safely back from war, she cut her tresses and placed them on the temple altar. The Gods were so pleased with the offering that they took the hair into the sky where it became the constellation Coma Berenices (Berenice’s hair). The constellation of Coma Berenices is centred between Canes Venatici to the north, Virgo to the south, Bootes on the east and Leo on the west border. The following text is taken from the 2005 exhibition literature when these works were first shown in London: Kiefer's elegiac oeuvre is based on a vast system of themes and references relating to the human condition, explored through a highly emotive use of material and medium. In his muscular artistic language, physical materiality and visual complexity are equal to the content itself, which ranges over sources as diverse as Teutonic mythology and history, alchemy, apocalypse, and belief. As corollary to this breadth of content, Kiefer employs an almost bewildering variety of materials including - in addition to the thick oil paint that is the base of all his large-scale works - dirt, lead, models, photographs, woodcuts, sand, straw and all manner of organic material. By adding 'real' materials to the illusionistic painted surface of his gigantic tableaux, he has invented a compelling 'third space' between painting and sculpture. Few contemporary artists match Kiefer's epic reach; the provocative and paradoxical nature of his work suggests that he embraces the notion of the modern artist who stands resolutely outside society, flaunting its histories, its taboos and its myths. By assimilating and utilizing the conventions and traditions of history painting, he goes beyond them, mingling viewpoints and presenting contradictory interpretations while emulating the genre's grandiloquence. Anselm Kiefer was born in 1945 in Donaueschingen. As a young artist in a Germany reeling from the after-shocks of the Second World War, he opted for a thoroughly and obviously indigenous art, of native subjects, values and symbols that contended with the fraught territory of German history and identity. In the late 1970s he started to make large, highly worked books that began with photographs staged in his studio, gradually gaining body through the application of lead, paint and other collage elements. These impressive objects indicated the way to the complex, process-oriented works of his mature period. In 1991 Kiefer left Germany, eventually settling in the south of France. In the same year he made an exhibition of paintings stacked randomly on top of each other as if discarded. This led to a hiatus in his art production that lasted more than three years. After this he began making new work with a wholly new subject matter, themes and references, dealing with central spiritual and philosophical concerns of our time. Over the past four decades, Kiefer has exhibited his work extensively throughout the world and is included in the world's most prestigious public and private collections.
Guilio Paolini came to international note as a leading member of the arte povera group in Italy in 1967. Like the others, he uses found materials and often introduces historical and literary references into his imagery. Works such as this have a poetic quality that is common with arte povera and yet there is a strong conceptual and critical streak that is not normally associated with the group. Many of his installations directly critique assumptions about art history and play with the rules of perspective to disclose their paradoxical illusionism. ‘L’altra figura’ (the other figure) is a deceptively simple play on the classical theme. The two heads raised on plinths to the height of a modestly sized viewer are identical plaster casts of a Roman copy of an earlier Hellenistic bust. The busts show the heads slightly at an angle to the body, their faces turned to reflect each other precisely. This slightly sideways glance lends a degree of animation to what would otherwise be a static mirroring. It is as if they have both just turned to catch the other's gaze; perhaps it is the dramatic incident that has just occurred between them. On the floor surrounding the two plinths is the manifest evidence of a minor disaster. Another bust that seems to have crashed to the floor, shattering into multiple pieces of plaster, is just barely recognisable as the third of a kind. The twins may be thought of as a related pair or a mirroring of one but three is the beginning of an indefinite number, suggesting infinite reproducibility or endless cloning. A common theme of Paolini’s work investigates representational strategies in art since the Renaissance, including modernist aspirations to find the essence of things. Mirroring is the most immediate form of mimetic representation so it is reasonable to begin to see this as a work that follows this line. The Greco-Roman heads also incline us to suspect narratives from antiquity. Could the smashed figure lying on the ground, in a more-or-less circular arrangement, be the rippled effect of the reflection in a pool disturbed by Narcissus reaching out to caress his own loved image? This would certainly be a poetic take on the impossibility of possessing the desired object in representation. The degree of fragmentation of the third head also suggests a fall from a great height; could this be the mythical Icarus, who ignored his father’s warning not to fly too close to the sun? This pragmatic warning masks a greater peril since the sun is Apollo riding across the sky in his chariot. Apollo for Plato was the ultimate source of pure form, something representation could never capture, although neo-Platonists and modernists dreamt of doing so. Poor Icarus got carried away and soared towards this great source but was struck down by the jealous god for his presumption. © Art Gallery of New South Wales Contemporary Collection Handbook, 2006
Callum Morton’s sculptures combine incisive social observation, ideas about urban design and contemporary living, and an interest in the legacy of minimal sculpture. ‘Motormouth’ continues his consideration of the intersections between public and private space and in particular the ‘non-spaces’ of urban design such as freeways, shopping centres, service stations, cinemas and convenience stores. These are the generic buildings and sites that are designed as transit zones between destinations or as backdrops to their intended function. We don’t usually notice their architecture except as an indicator of this function. Morton’s sculptural versions reintroduce narratives that are at odds with the social design of these places and yet are somehow entirely appropriate for the setting. ‘Motormouth’ is a sculpture of two freeways, scaled 1:10 and perfect in detail down to the dirty realism of their distressed, water-stained concrete marked with graffiti. It appears to be a realistic model but is in fact an elaborate representation of what a generic freeway should look like rather than being a copy of an existing structure. The freeways are raised on pylons above eye height, frustrating our desire to see what is on the superstructure, though logically it should only be scaled-down cars. Freeways are designed to move people efficiently and rapidly between city centres and satellite suburbs, from home to work, from boardroom to bedroom, or at the very least to get you across town in time for your meeting. They are the key people conduits of modern urban design and, as with other mid 20th-century projects, they had a progressive utopian agenda to make life more time efficient and productive. And on a good day they still do this. On others they are a battleground where the tensions between the private and public functions of cars and freeways erupt. In ‘Motormouth’ you can hear the sound of a traffic jam on the lower freeway. Inevitably in the frustration at being kept waiting, anger boils over and conflict ensues. Cars are a private, personal zone in which we move through a public arena, one in which we feel empowered and in control. Despite the social contract that keeps us on the correct side of the road and heading in the same direction, in our car our rules count as we adjust the seats, the climate, the music, to create a pod between us and the world. However road rage is a rapidly growing social issue and while studies have come up with several interlocking reasons for this phenomenon, it seems to hinge on the tension between the collective rules we need to regulate cars, roads and driving and our rampant individualism. There is no doubt that contemporary city life is faster: we have more to do, so we don’t expect to be kept waiting. As the title puns, we are the inevitable product of our own social and technological designs. © Art Gallery of New South Wales Contemporary Collection Handbook, 2006
For the past 30 years Tony Cragg has consistently produced original ideas and a remarkable diversity of forms employing a vast array of materials and techniques. It is difficult to characterise his work within a specific style or art movement. In the early 1970s a new generation of British sculptors celebrated a certain freedom from the snares of style which had bedevilled their immediate predecessors. Under the influence of conceptual art, a pluralist environment in which almost anything could happen began to flourish. Conceptual artists proclaimed the subservience of material form to content, thereby allowing any material or method to be employed in their service. Some artists took this dictum to devalue the material properties of ‘fine art’ and began privileging media associated with popular culture, including text, photography and video over more traditional materials. Cragg, by contrast, was among those who translated this freedom into an infinite possibility for systems and material processes with which to conjure new and provocative objects. In this he had more in common with the European arte povera artists than with Transatlantic conceptualism. His early works included materials such as coloured plastic fragments found along the Thames embankment, old furniture and machine parts. These were always ordered according to precise systems reflecting both his scientific orientation and the working ethic of rigorous systems and logical processes that prevailed in British art schools at the time. In Cragg’s work, however, there was always room within this order for random variation, just as there is in nature. Paradoxically the limitation imposed by these systems was liberating because they replaced the constraints of reproducing appearances on the one hand and the formal recipes of basic design on the other. Working within these systems, artists could incorporate all manner of material, even celebrating excesses of material diversity without losing the logic of the form. ‘Spyrogyra’ captures the general good humour of Cragg’s sculpture while embodying some of the most profound aspects of his work as a whole. The bottle rack is of course a reference to Duchamp’s famous Readymade, ‘Egouttoir’ (bottle rack) 1914 1; this alludes to the playful conceptual aspect of Cragg which so often makes witty allusions to art history. The structure is however far more open and intuitive than Duchamp’s original. The spiral immediately suggests DNA and organic couplings, which are ubiquitous in Cragg’s forms. Each rod attached to the spiral can take certain kinds of bottles, not a unique bottle but one of a general kind. As a result every time it is assembled it changes in the particular but maintains its essential form. In this way it mimics the genetic accommodation of kind and individuality. The reference to scientific structures is invariably a key theme in Cragg’s work. 1. Or, literally ‘detaster’, a play on the idea of the readymade as a challenge to taste in art © Art Gallery of New South Wales Contemporary Collection Handbook, 2006
In 'Killing time' Ricky Swallow has synthesised his interests in time passing, personal and collective memory, everyday experiences and the history of art. Swallow's earlier sculptures were often carefully crafted duplicates of recently retro items, such as beatboxes and BMX bikes, or reworked record turntables with scaled-down narrative scenarios that blend science fiction and scientific fact. More recently he has made carvings of the animate and inanimate conceived and realised at a ratio of 1:1. 'Killing time' is the most ambitious work that Swallow has made to date and is likely to remain so for some time due to the onerous and time-consuming physical task of working in such detail on this scale. It was the centrepiece of Swallow's solo exhibition at the Australian Pavilion in the 2005 Venice Biennale. While 'Killing time' visually recalls 17th-century Dutch still-life painting and even the work of such a virtuoso illusionist woodcarver as Grinling Gibbons, the subject matter is derived from Swallow’s personal experience. The son of a fisherman, he has faithfully depicted every sea creature that he recalls capturing, killing and eating during his life. The various fish, lobsters, oysters, crabs and others are displayed on a table which duplicates the table around which Swallow’s family ate dinner. While 'Killing time' uses the visual language of a particular genre of painting and wood-carving, it is also an intensely personal act of remembering; it is another 'evaporated self-portrait' as Swallow has described his sculptures, which call on specific personal memories while also having a commonly recognisable subject matter. 'Killing time' is carved mainly from laminated jelutong, a pale coloured hardwood used commercially for prototypes and pattern-making but also by woodworking hobbyists for whittling. The illusionism of the sculpture is emphasised by the attention to detail in the lobster, the lemon peel that hangs over the edge of the table and the rippling folds of the tablecloth pushed to one end. However the monochromatic timber and the dramatic side-lighting, devised by Swallow to create strong shadows and highlights, point to the inherent unreality of transcribing animate form into inanimate materials. There is a loop of commemoration and death that permeates this work, both in the references to the still-life genre and in the fact that the sculptor killed these creatures in the first place, long before carving this de facto memorial. In the 17th century, vanitas still-life paintings portrayed the abundance of natural life and worldly goods to celebrate this abundance while pointing to the fact that it was only transient, just as life itself is. The title 'Killing time' refers to this sense of life stilled in art, to the act of remembering and recording something from the artist’s past, and to the time spent on carving this labour-intensive sculpture. © Art Gallery of New South Wales Contemporary Collection Handbook, 2006
Through photographs, objects and installations Simryn Gill considers how we experience a sense of place and how both personal and cultural histories inform our present moment. Her work also suggests how culture becomes naturalised, an almost invisible part of our physical environment. Gill often works with books, narratives and texts that provide a framework through which we order and describe the world around us. 'Forest', has the appearance of an etymological proposition where Gill quite literally takes printed words back to roots. Not their roots, as in the source of their meaning, but rather the growing, evolving, decaying nature from which the raw material for books is derived. Gill tore up the fibrous matter of book pages and grafted fragile strips of text into the natural environment. Attached to tropical plants, they look like natural forms, becoming exuberant banana florescences, dangling aerial roots on fig trees, mangroves emerging from mudflats, variegations on the leaves of lush tropical foliage and decaying vegetation at the base of epiphytic ferns. The original plant interventions occurred in places where a tamed nature was in the process of becoming wild again, in decrepit gardens and decaying buildings in Malaysia and Singapore. There is something of a 'lost cities' quality to these works, as nature is in the process of reclaiming culture if not civilisation. Gill's photographic records of her interventions recall botanical drawings and are printed in subtle tones of gray. In keeping with their observational purpose, they depict space up close and there are no vistas, faraway horizons or the distant sublime. They have something of the claustrophophic closeness and rank fecundity of tropical vegetation, which taxed the romantic imaginations of the 19th century. Gill's text has only a brief life out in the landscape as, if it is not eaten by insects, it rapidly rots away under the onslaught of the elements. While we may suspect that culture is impermanent, evolving and probably contingent, we do not really expect such classics as 'Frankenstein, The origin of species or Robinson Crusoe' to become 'cultural compost'. Gill has developed a form of wood-pulp fiction in which she 'literalises the landscape', stories and legends have taken root off the pages of books and grown into a fantastic local flora of transplanted narratives.
Wall drawing #1091: arcs, circles and bands (room) 2003
First drawn by: Kazuko Miyamoto First installation: Panza di Biumo residence, Varese, Italy, June 1980 Sol LeWitt’s wall drawings are executed by professional draughtspeople from sets of instructions generated by the artist. LeWitt emphasised the idea or concept of an artwork over its visual realisation, hence his assertion that his instructions are themselves the work of art. ‘Wall drawing #337’ and ‘Wall drawing #338’ exemplify this process: both works are drawn by professional draughtspeople following LeWitt’s instructions. The artist’s methodology has been likened to that of a composer: the works are manifested by others, and no single drawing is ever the definitive version. In a 1971 interview LeWitt commented: ‘I try to make the plan specific enough so that it comes out more or less how I want it, but general enough that [the draughtspeople] have the freedom to interpret. It’s as though I am writing of piece of music and somebody else is going to play it on the piano.’
Two Wrapped Trees
Nam June Paik was a pioneer of video installation in the early 1960s. Associated with the international conceptual movement Fluxus, Paik regularly collaborated with other Fluxus artists such as Joseph Beuys and George Maciunas. In 1976 John Kaldor invited Paik and his collaborator, the cellist Charlotte Moorman to create a Kaldor Public Art Project in Australia. As part of the project Moorman played the ‘TV cello’. Made from three televisions removed from their sets so that their inner workings can be seen, with an attached cello bridge, tailpiece and strings forming a cello-like instrument. ‘TV Buddha’ was also made in Sydney in 1976 using an old wooden Maitreya (Buddha of the future) from the Kaldor collection. ‘Kaldor candle’ was made in 1996 for John Kaldor, who remained friends with Paik until the artist’s death in 2006. Both ‘TV Buddha’ and ‘Kaldor candle’ employ a conceptual use of video – first developed by Paik – in which a camera and a monitor loop in real time, blurring the object–subject distinction. This feedback idea was used by leading conceptual artists in the 1970s, including Bill Viola, Dan Graham and Mike Parr.
'From thunder and summer rains on the high South African veld to a day’s work in Sydney. A terracotta clay and water work made with a fast hand. I make one part of the image, and the forces of nature make the rest. The macro-scale and the micro-scale, deliberation and chance. I walk away with bats flying high over the Domain.' Richard Long 2011 Richard Long has made the act of walking in remote and extraordinary landscapes into an art form. It is during these walks that he arranges natural objects such as rocks into geometric forms which he then photographs. ‘Southern gravity’ was commissioned by John Kaldor specially for the John Kaldor Family Gallery. Long’s mud drawings relate to the water lines poured over rock shelves that he often makes on his walks. Like the artist’s stone works, ‘Southern gravity’ is based on a geometric shape but the application of the mud is done with such an intensely energetic movement – akin to a ritual dance – that striking traces of the artist’s hand gestures are left behind. The wet mud splashes, drips and sprays over the underlying geometry, expressing not only the speed of execution but also the effects of gravity. The finer drips create the impression of a shower that is almost like the rain in a Hokusai print.