Your Australian Art Collection reimagined


The Australian Art Collection reimagined brings together art from different times and across cultures, we trace narratives of geography — as country, as landscape, as the place we live and work — and we share stories of traversal and encounter, of immigration, colonisation and the expatriate experience. So, how do we tell the story of Australian art? — over the following weeks we will delve into this question. After 120 years of building the Collection, there are many stories to tell; in doing so, we acknowledge that we live in a country with a complex history. And then we let the works speak for themselves.

Telling the Story of Australian Art

After 18 months of closure to enable a much-needed Collection Storage upgrade at the Queensland Art Gallery, the Australian art collection is set to reopen in late September. Our curators, along with Director Chris Saines, have taken this rare opportunity to re-present the Gallery’s Australian art holdings, collected for more than 120 years, in new and innovative ways.

Yvonne Koolmatrie, Hot-air balloon 2006
Yvonne Koolmatrie, Ngarrindjeri people, Australia b.1944 / Hot-air balloon 2006 / Coil-woven sedge grass and river rushes / Purchased 2006 with funds from Cathryn Mittelheuser AM through the Queensland Art Gallery Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery / © The artist

The Australian Collection reimagined is our first step towards returning the Queensland Art Gallery building, as closely as possible, to the intended vision of architect Robin Gibson AO, an expansive, open space with clear sightlines throughout, lending each gallery a beautiful sense of connectedness to the whole. The plan to open up the building enabled us to think of the space in an expansive way. Passers-by in the Whale Mall outside the Queensland Museum will again be able to look down into the Gallery through our reopened windows and see works designed for suspension, such as Yvonne Koolmatrie’s Hot air balloon 2006, hanging from the high ceilings. Inside, works that are firmly grounded, such as Rosalie Gascoigne’s Overland 1996 and Aleks Danko’s DAY IN DAY OUT 1991, act as counterpoints.

Rosalie Gascoigne, Overland 1996
Rosalie Gascoigne, Australia 1917-1999 / Overland 1996 / Painted, warped plywood panels on wood blocks / 25 panels / Gift in memory of Rosalie and Ben Gascoigne through the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art Foundation 2014. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery / © Rosalie Gascoigne/Licensed by Viscopy
Aleks Danko, DAY IN DAY OUT (second version) 1991
Aleks Danko, Australia b.1950 / DAY IN DAY OUT (second version) 1991 / Cast aluminium and theatre light on metal support / Purchased 1992 / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery / © Queensland Art Gallery

Artist and activist Richard Bell’s Judgement day (Bell’s Theorem) 2008 and Robert MacPherson’s National art: A simplistic view ‘Queensland series’ 1978 hang side by side. A patchwork of brightly painted circular and
linear forms alluding to Western Desert painting with splattered paint, Bell’s work states in bold white letters: ‘Australian Art Does Not Exist’. MacPherson’s serial work repeats a familiar form, the outline of the state of Queensland as it appears on a map. In their repetition, the variations suggest mass production — the work delivers a playful but pointed reference to the building of a state and, by implication, the broader conceptual construction of a nation.

Bell and MacPherson’s works challenge us to think deeply about how we might approach and understand the idea of Australian art. They confront us with the notion that ‘Australian art’ is somewhat problematic. One of the disguised texts found in the background of Bell’s work states: ‘You don’t have a culture’, a statement that points to the tenuous nature of art histories built on narratives either borrowed or imported. in the twenty-first century we recognise that Indigenous cultures underpin some of this country’s most compelling contemporary works.

Richard Bell, Judgement Day (Bell's Theorem) 2008
Richard Bell, Kamilaroi/Jiman/Kooma people, Australia b.1953 / Judgement Day (Bell’s Theorem) 2008 / Synthetic polymer paint on canvas / The James C Sourris AM Collection. Gift of James C Sourris AM through the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art Foundation 2013. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery / © The artist
Robert MacPherson, National art: A simplistic view 'Queensland series' 1978
Robert MacPherson, Australia b.1937 / National art: A simplistic view ‘Queensland series’ 1978 / Synthetic polymer paint on plywood / Purchased 1993. Queensland Art Gallery Functions Reserve Fund / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery / © The artist

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Dr Kyla McFarlane, Australian Art, QAGOMA
Feature image (detail): Richard Bell’s Judgement Day (Bell’s Theorem) 2008