Japonisme: Japanese aesthetics in France


The influence of Japanese aesthetics in France during the nineteenth century proved pivotal to a number of modern art movements.  To celebrate the artistic intersections between France and Japan, the Gallery presents screens and decorative ware alongside impressionist landscapes and modern works.

Lucien Pissarro, France/England 1863–1944 / Tea time, Coldharbour 1916 / Oil on canvas / 52 x 63.5cm / Purchased 1959. Annie Chisholm Wilson Bequest / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art
John Russell, Australia/France 1858-1930 / Les Aiguilles, Belle-Ile (The Needles, Belle-Ile) c.1890 / Oil on canvas / 40.4 x 64.7cm / Gift of Lady Trout 1985 / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art

Coined in 1872 to describe the influence of Japanese art on European artists and designers, the word ‘Japonisme’ was first used by French critic, collector and printmaker Philippe Burty. Japan held a profound fascination for Western artists during this period, and the country’s aesthetic deeply affected the European art of the late nineteenth century — from composition, technique and subject, to the inclusion of Japanese ceramics, prints and textiles in European paintings, and objects decorated with Japanese designs.

After some 250 years of embargo, trade between Japan and France, Britain, Russia and the United States resumed after the formalisation of treaties and diplomatic relations in 1854–58. Japanese woodblock prints, textiles, ceramics, screens, netsuke and objets d’art began to appear in European markets from the 1860s and were highly desirable. Major exhibitions in Paris, such as the 1867 Exposition Universelle (World’s Fair), brought Japanese art and design to the attention of a broader public, while institutions such as the Bibliothèque nationale de France added Japanese art to their collections. In the avant-garde city of Paris, the effect on art and design was so considerable that it contributed to the development of new aesthetic movements, including Impressionism, Post- Impressionism and Art Nouveau in France; while in Britain, it informed the Aesthetic style.

The influx of Japanese artworks in Europe coincided with a period of experimentation that saw European artists taking new artistic approaches to their work. Ukiyo-e (‘pictures of the floating world’) woodblock prints, in particular, were notably influential on French artists associated with Impressionism and Post-Impressionism, who were attracted to their bold style, and recognised the dynamic and novel way in which they depicted scenes of ordinary life. The aesthetic that most challenged European convention was the alternative it proposed to perspectival space: ukiyo-e were characterised by cropped, asymmetrical compositions, defined outlines and flat areas of colour. European artists were excited by the prints, and by the new technology of photography — only recently invented — for their ability to capture the fleeting, casual moments of life otherwise absent from formal academic painting.

SIGN UP NOW: Be the first to know. Subscribe to QAGOMA Blog for the latest announcements, acquisitions, and behind-the-scenes features.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, France 1864–1901 / Divan Japonais 1892–93 / Lithograph on poster paper / 79.6 x 60.2cm / Purchased 1991. Queensland Art Gallery Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art

Many artists of the time became keen collectors of Japanese art — Edouard Manet, Claude Monet, Edgar Degas, Henri Toulouse- Lautrec, Edouard Vuillard, Vincent van Gogh and American expatriate Mary Cassatt among them. The magazine Le Japon Artistique, published by German-born French art dealer Siegfried Bing, was highly influential, and reproduced many of the major prints by ukiyo-e artists. Japanese objets d’art and modes of dress particularly enchanted James Tissot, Claude Monet, and James Abbott McNeill Whistler, who depicted Western models in elaborately embroidered kimonos, and they also included Japanese ceramics and prints, almost like props, in the composition of their works. Monet created his garden at Giverny in the Japanese style, and decorated the interior of his house with woodblock prints and Japanese ceramics. More subtly, the Japanese printmakers’ use of asymmetrical compositions and unusual perspectives also influenced these artists.

Henri Rivière, France 1864–1951 / Les Trente-six vues de la Tour Eiffel(Thirty-six views of the Eiffel Tower) (details) 1888–1902 / Plates of an unbound edition of 36 colour lithographs / 17 x 21.2cm (each) / Purchased 2014. Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art

Henri Rivière’s lithographic series Les Trente-six vues de la Tour Eiffel (Thirty-six views of the Eiffel Tower) 1902 is regarded as one of the finest examples of Japonisme. Visible from every quarter, engineer Gustave Eiffel’s tower dominated Paris’s skyline following its construction for the Exposition Universelle in 1889: for Rivière, who climbed and photographed the tower just prior to its completion, it represented a completely new type of spatial and visual beauty. When viewed from within, the structure’s massive iron girders created abstract patterns against the sky. When viewed from the ground, the tower was at once an omnipresent backdrop to daily Parisian life and an international icon of modernity.

Modelled on the masterful collection of woodblock prints by Katsushika Hokusai (1760–1849), titled ‘Thirty-six views of Mount Fuji’ c.1830–32, Rivière’s ‘views’ show the artist’s captivation by the composition of traditional ukiyo-e. The subdued colour palette of nineteenth-century manga (a term Hokusai coined to describe his collections of sketches) enabled Rivière to capture the monumentality of the Eiffel Tower.

Toshi Yoshida, Japan 1911–95 / Village of plums 1951 / Colour woodblock print / 24.2 x 37.2cm / Gift of Everil Taylor through the Queensland Art Gallery Foundation 2001. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art

Just as Western artists were finding inspiration in Japanese art, Japan was opening to the West. Shin-hanga (literally ‘new prints’) prints show the influence of impressionist techniques and colour ranges, and point to the two-way relationship between the art of the East and West at the turn of the twentieth century. Toshi Yoshida’s prints are associated with the Shin-hanga movement, which emerged in Japan in the 1920s. Stylistically different from traditional ukiyo-e works, their large areas of unbroken colour indicate the influence of Impressionism from the late nineteenth century.

For many European nations, including France, the late nineteenth century was a time of expanding frontiers. Colonisation and imperialism were the more negative aspects of this outward gaze, but in the arts, the era’s expansiveness enabled artists to look beyond the Greco–Roman principles of European art and develop new modes and styles of representation. Affecting painting, printmaking, sculpture and the decorative arts, Japonisme was a formative influence on the various movements that would one day constitute Modernism.

Abigail Bernal is Assistant Curator, International Art, QAGOMA.

Know Brisbane through the Collection / Read more about the Australian Collection / Subscribe to QAGOMA YouTube to go behind-the-scenes

Featured image detail: Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec Divan Japonais 1892–93


Patachitras: A form of audiovisual communication


Thought to be one of the oldest forms of audiovisual communication, with their traditional presentation involving storytelling and songs, patachitras are deeply embedded in the vernacular traditions of West Bengal.

Patachitras or ‘pats’ are scroll paintings from West Bengal, in eastern India, that are intimately bound up with itinerant storytelling and song. Historically, pats were cloth scrolls on which mythological or epic stories were painted as a sequence of frames. A Patua would travel from one village to another, slowly unrolling the scrolls and singing songs known as ‘pater gaan’. In exchange, they would receive rice or other food and goods. Patachitras have been compared to cinema frames or animation and are said to be one of the oldest forms of audiovisual communication. Never a courtly or aristocratic tradition, patachitras remain deeply embedded in the vernacular traditions of the region.

SIGN UP NOW: Subscribe to QAGOMA Blog for the latest announcements, recent acquisitions, behind-the-scenes features, and artist stories.

Jaba Chitrakar, India b.1960s / Tsunami 2015 / Natural colour on mill-made paper with fabric backing / 278 x 56.2cm / Purchased 2015 with funds from Rick and Carolle Wilkinson through the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Jaba Chitrakar

Following a meticulous artistic process, the artists extract natural dyes from local flowers, leaves, minerals and spices (such as turmeric, teak, soot and bel fruit) and store the colours in coconut shells. The scrolls are made from sheets of medium weight paper, with individual panels sewn together and glued onto a piece of patterned sari cloth, making them durable enough to withstand frequent rolling and unrolling. Artists begin by drawing lightcoloured pencil outlines, tracing the story and its characters, then use a handmade brush to apply colour. Lastly, black outlines are added to delineate the forms.

Many of the artists who practice this style are from the Chitrakar community in Naya Village, in West Midnapore, West Bengal. Self-designated Muslims, they nonetheless follow local Hindu customs and their pats often have largely Hindu themes. ‘Patua’ is the popular name for these artists, but ‘Chitrakar’ is considered a more respectable term, and has also been adopted by the artists as a surname and caste title. Pats were traditionally created only by men, but many female artists are now leading this art form.

With the rise of cinema and the collapse of the zamindari (aristocratic) system from which the artists received patronage, many were forced to look for alternative employment. In recent decades, government and social enterprise organisations have helped them in an attempt to keep the art form alive. Through workshops and art fairs, artists have also come into contact with urban audiences, and patachitras have begun to appear in international contemporary art contexts.

Jaba Chitrakar, India b.1960s / 9/11 2012 / Natural colour on mill-made paper with fabric backing / 276 x 56cm / Purchased 2016 with funds from Professor Susan Street AO through the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Jaba Chitrakar

Contemporary local and global events have become subjects for painted scrolls. Artists have addressed the Indian Ocean Asian tsunami of 2004, the Gujarati earthquake, and the assassination of prime minister Indira Gandhi, as well as subjects such as birth control, the spread of HIV/AIDS and religious conflict. They have also been commissioned by organisations such as the American Red Cross to educate villagers on these subjects. The art of singing the scrolls, however, has declined as commercial demand has grown. Traditionally, they were not sold at all — scrolls would be retained for performances until they became old and faded, at which point they would be ceremonially gifted to a river.

Chitrakar’s scrolls feature multiple subjects from the mythical to the contemporary, from the 2004 tsunami and the events of September 11 to local stories concerning the West Bengali goddess, Durga, and tales from the ancient Indian epic poem, the Ramayana.

Abigail Bernal is Assistant Curator, International Art., QAGOMA

Join us at GOMA until 19 July 2020

These works are on display in ‘Work, Work, Work’ which features creative output across a range of media. ‘Work, Work, Work’ is in the Marica and James C. Sourris AM Galleries (3.3 and 3.4), GOMA

Subscribe to QAGOMA YouTube to go behind-the-scenes / Hear artists tell their stories / Read more about your Collection

Feature image detail: Jaba Chitrakar’s 9/11 2012


Works by Auguste Rodin offer an insight into his practice


The charismatic and obsessive French sculptor Auguste Rodin (1840–1917) remains a fascinating figure, his work, the subject of numerous controversies during his lifetime, continues to inspire debate, particularly his intimate representations of the female figure. There is little dispute, however, about his importance to modern sculpture and his continuing influence on contemporary artists, writers, and even choreographers.

The Gallery’s Collection includes six works by Rodin. As a group, they offer a small insight into the remarkable practice of this artist. Born in 1840, the son of a police official, Rodin had no formal art training at an academy, but instead worked as an assistant in artists’ studios. This experience gave him a broad familiarity with mediums and techniques, and allowed him to experiment with a variety of materials — creating rich patinas by mixing copper and zinc; and using clay, wax, plaster, bronze and marble. Rodin said of this time:

Where did I learn to understand sculpture? In the woods by looking at the trees, along roads by observing the formation of clouds, in the studio by studying the model, everywhere except in the schools.1

Auguste Rodin, France 1840-1917 / L’Age d’airain (The Bronze age) 1876-77, cast 1955 / Bronze / 99 x 12 x 29.5cm; 104 x 39.4 x 30.5cm (with base) / Purchased 1955. Beatrice Ethel Mallalieu Bequest / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art

L’Age d’airain (The Bronze Age) 1876-77, currently installed in the Queensland Art Gallery’s sculpture courtyard, was the first full-scale figure that Rodin exhibited under his own signature. Based on a young Belgian officer, it took more than 18 months to complete:

I was in the deepest despair with that figure, and I worked so intensively on it, trying to get what I wanted, that there are at least four figures in it.2

First exhibited in a Paris Salon, the sculpture was heavily criticised by the jury and audience alike, who found the figure so lifelike that they believed it to have been cast from a human body rather than purely sculpted, which seriously belittled the achievement.3

The immediacy of Rodin’s figures often confronted his contemporary audience. The expressive use of anatomy and textured surfaces were in stark contrast to the finely finished forms of the preceding generation of sculptors. Rodin’s aim was to invest sculpture with a psychological and emotional dimension, and to express a tangible realism, energy and vitality through the object itself rather than its narrative. His male figures are generally shown in poses that suggest doubt, questioning or despair. Some works are challenging to view even now — La femme accroupie (The crouching woman) 1880–82, for example, is particularly raw in its rich surface and exposed view. (Like a number of other works by Rodin from this period, La femme accroupie was part of his unfinished commission, Gates of Hell 1880–c.1890.) Critical opinions vary as to whether Rodin empowered women or objectified them by depicting them as participants in acts of desire.

Auguste Rodin / La femme accroupie (The crouching woman) 1880-82, cast 1955 / Bronze / 32 x 27 x 20.5cm / Purchased 1955 / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art

Fascinated by how the human body moves, Rodin would ask female models to walk nude around the studio, rather than holding a pose. He produced thousands of sketches and drawings, and preferred street performers, entertainers, dancers and acrobats as live models because their poses and gestures were less formal, more dynamic and more complex than traditional academic models. In 1906, he followed a group of Cambodian ballet dancers from Paris to Marseille to draw them; he was also captivated by the performers of the Ballets Russes and American veil dancer Isadora Duncan. L’acrobate (The acrobat) 1909 reveals this preference. An impressionistic work, it was modelled rapidly in clay, with the pinched and pressed surface still clearly visible, before being cast in bronze. Many of these smaller works were like musical improvisations, capturing the sense of freedom that characterises much of his art. Inspired by Michelangelo and Renaissance sculpture, he also created truncated figures, of which Torse de jeune femme (A young woman’s torso) 1909 is an example.

Auguste Rodin / L’acrobate (The acrobat) 1909, cast 1956 / Bronze / 29 x 14.6 x 12.3cm / Purchased 1960. Sir John and Lady Chandler Citizens’ Appreciation Fund / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art

RELATED: John Russell

As well as these lithe and graceful depictions, Rodin produced numerous busts of well-known figures such as Victor Hugo, Charles Baudelaire, Camille Claudel, and Japanese actress Hanako. Madame Russell 1888, in the Collection, was commissioned by his friend, Australian painter John Russell, and shows Russell’s beautiful young wife, Italian model Anna Maria Antonietta Mattiocco (also known as Marianna Russell).

Auguste Rodin / Madame Russell 1888 / Wax 33.2 x 27 x 24cm; 46 x 27 x 24cm (with base) / Purchased 1992 with funds from the 1991 International Exhibitions Program / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art
Photograph of Marlanna Mattlocco (Marianna Russell) overdrawn by John Russell, Paris 1885 / Photograph courtesy: Art Gallery of New South Wales

A drypoint etching of his friend, playwright Henri Becque, would have been an early stage in the creation of a bust; Rodin often started from sketches to capture expressions before modelling the figures in clay or wax. Many of his works were not cast in bronze until after his death.

Auguste Rodin / Henri Becque 1883-87, printed 1887 / Drypoint on light brown wove Oriental paper / 15.7 x 20.4cm (plate) / Purchased 1962 / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art

With the installation of L’Age d’airain (The Bronze Age) into the Queensland Art Gallery’s sculpture courtyard, it offers us a moment to pause and reflect on the man often described as the father of modern sculpture. The creator of iconic works such as Le Penseur (The Thinker) 1880 and Le Baiser (The Kiss) 1884, Rodin was an inspiration not just for subsequent sculptors, such as Alberto Giacometti and Constantin Brancusi, but for artists, writers and, more recently, choreographers. That he emphasised the formal qualities of the body in movement, retained the sculptural process as part of the finished work, and focused on partial figures and expression, was revolutionary in his time. His works continue to inspire.

Abigail Bernal is Assistant Curator, International Art, QAGOMA

Auguste Rodin, cited in Rachel Corbett, You Must Change Your Life: The Story of Rainer Maria Rilke and Auguste Rodin, W.W. Norton & Company, New York, 2016, p.12.
Cited in Antoinette Le Normand-Romain, The Bronzes of Rodin: Catalogue of Works in the Musée Rodin – Vol.1, Musée Rodin, Paris, 2007, p.123.
3  By 1880, the controversy had passed. The sculpture was later cast in bronze and purchased by the French Ministry of Fine Arts for the Luxembourg Gardens.

Feature image detail: Auguste Rodin L’Age d’airain (The Bronze age) 1876-77, cast 1955


Rising Tides: The islands of Martha Atienza


Martha Atienza’s video work Our Islands 11°16’58.4″N 123°45’07.0″E 2017, installed at the Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) during The 9th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art’ (APT9), is a dreamlike procession beneath the sea that draws attention to climate change and issues of migration and labour in the Philippines. We spoke with the artist about working with her community and using video as a tool for social change.

Hear Martha Atienza discuss her video projects and see behind-the-scenes footage from the making of ‘Our Islands’

SUBSCRIBE to QAGOMA YouTube to go behind-the-scenes at events and exhibitions / Martha Atienza, The Philippines/The Netherlands b.1981 / Our Islands 11°16’58.4”N 123°45’07.0”E 2017 / Single-channel HD video, 72 minutes, colour / © Martha Atienza / Courtesy: The artist and Silverlens Galleries, the Philippines

Born into a family of seafarers, Martha Atienza creates video, sound and installation works that explore the experience of being at sea and address histories of migration, labour, environmental degradation and identity. More than 400,000 Filipinos work onboard some type of vessel, making them the largest group of seafaring people in the world. Atienza uses art as a tool for social change by working directly with the community of Madridejos on Bantayan Island, where her father was born and she was partly raised, to address the problems this small fishing community faces due to poverty, environmental change, and the long absence of family members at sea. Atienza’s work, while based on specifically local concerns and culture, has global significance and highlights common issues shared across the more than 7,000 islands of the Philippines.

Stay Connected: Subscribe to the QAGOMA Blog

Martha Atienza as a child (right) / Image courtesy: The artist

Atienza became fascinated with the medium of video from a young age. ‘I have always been filming so that I could hold on to time as everything around me changed’, she says.She began recording her family and neighbours while they carried out everyday rituals and activities, but she became increasingly obsessed with their relationship to the sea. From 2010, she started to follow and film local fishermen and international seafarers from Bantayan Island.2

Her practice also embodies a strong sense of social and communal responsibility. After filming, it was important to Atienza to share the images with the people of the island. ‘As a result, our community started to see themselves from a different perspective’, she says. ‘The video images triggered questions and highlighted social, environmental and economic issues.’

Atienza’s video archive, titled Para sa Aton (meaning ‘for us’ in Visayan, one of the languages spoken on Bantayan Island), gives an indication of how this transformed her community — women especially are conscious of the power of video to explore their own lives, including the psychological impact on families of members being at sea for long stretches at a time.3 A group of young people who had been involved in her Bantayan Island projects since 2010 established the youth group Atonisla (Our island), with a focus on art and encouraging emerging filmmakers to find their own voice. ‘[Through video] we discover our old belief system, discover our lost culture, understand who we are today as a people, start imagining our future together, and hope to inspire others.’

While filming fishermen and sailors, Atienza began to record Madridejos’s version of the national Ati-Atihan festival, which takes place every January. Initially she filmed the festival as entertainment: ‘[W]hen we were doing the other projects and talking about such heavy issues and watching videos, we put the image of this procession in as a kind of entertainment, to laugh at ourselves.’ Ati-Atihan was originally a festival of the Aeta people — the earliest indigenous inhabitants of the Philippines, who preceded Austronesian migrations — but, under Spanish rule, it became a festival to celebrate the infant Jesus (Santo Niño). In Madridejos, it has taken on a unique form, where the men of the purok (neighbourhood) parade through the town dressed in costumes of their own devising in response to current news events and histories in the Philippines.

‘Processions are common in our culture’, Atienza explains. ‘They are religious but are also a way we express ourselves. Each year, current events, dreams, hopes and even protest are expressed in costumes, music and dance. Visions of who we are and want to be as a people march through our towns.’

Related: Martha Atienza

Martha Atienza, The Philippines/The Netherlands b.1981 / Our Islands 11°16’58.4”N 123°45’07.0”E (details) 2017 / Single-channel HD video, 72 minutes, colour / © Martha Atienza / Courtesy: The artist and Silverlens Galleries, the Philippines

Atienza gradually realised that placing the festival in a different context might bring together the various threads in her practice. Our Islands 11°16’58.4″N 123°45’07.0″E, filmed in 2017 in the waters near Bantayan Island, re creates the parade on the ocean floor; the divers progress slowly forward against water currents among the damaged coral. In APT9, the video is back-projected onto a plexiglass screen, creating the illusion of an aquarium, with the men close to life-size.

Shooting the footage took months of planning and rehearsals. The divers wore the original costumes from various parades and used makeshift compression hoses to breathe underwater. In addition to the infant Jesus in red and gold, the figures include an orange-suited international seafarer; a maid carrying a suitcase, who represents the Overseas Foreign Workers (OFWs); a drug dealer followed by President Duterte’s anti-drug squad; and Manny Pacquiao, the popular boxing champion. As Atienza explains, the costumes reflect recent events in the Philippines.

Divers from Our Islands watch themselves on camera / Courtesy: The artist

‘Some of the costumes you see include the Yolanda survivor’, she says. (Yolanda is the Philippine name for super typhoon Haiyan, which tore through the country in November 2013, displacing around four million people and killing more than 6000.) ‘In 2014 they created that costume, “we survived the typhoon”. [But] the procession . . . mainly dealt with the drug war [in 2017]. And it’s not something we really talk about.’

Atienza was also concerned with highlighting the hardships of men’s labour and the impact of climate change on the island. The onceplentiful supply of fish has dwindled and, in desperation, fishermen have been forced to turn to the dangerous practice of compression diving. The grey and barren ocean floor and colourless lumps of coral are evidence of the enormous changes that have affected the region. As the island’s ecosystem is increasingly under threat, its inhabitants have had to abandon their homes and professions, leaving their families behind while they look for opportunities elsewhere.

Bantayan Island in the Philippines / Photograph: Martha Atienza

On Bantayan Island, Atienza has witnessed the sea engulfing the shore, forcing settlement back inland and leaving ruined houses and waterlogged trees in its wake. Through Our Islands, she and her community reach out to other small island nations in the hope of affecting change.

‘We want to look beyond our borders at other islands — in the Philippines, but also beyond — and not only share our story but find commonality’, Atienza says. ‘The issues that face us we do not face alone. Other nations, cultures and people are disappearing around the world.’

Abigail Bernal is Assistant Curator, International Art, QAGOMA

1 All quotations are from an interview with the artist in November 2017 or from an unpublished statement supplied by the artist.
2 This research formed the basis of installation works such as Gilubong ang akon pusod sa dagat (My navel is buried in the sea) 2011 and Endless hours at sea 2013.
3 Para sa Aton, <http://parasaaton.tumblr.com>, viewed December 2018.

Subscribe to QAGOMA YouTube to go behind-the-scenes at events and exhibitions / Watch APT9 videos or Read about artists

Buy the APT9 publication

APT9 has been assisted by our Founding Supporter Queensland Government and Principal Partner the Australian Government through the Australia Council, its arts funding and advisory body, and the Visual Arts and Craft Strategy, an initiative of the Australian, State and Territory Governments.

Martha Atienza has been supported by the Australian-ASEAN Council.

Feature image detail: Martha Atienza’s Our Islands 11°16’58.4″N 123°45’07.0″E (still) 2017

#MarthaAtienza #APT9 #QAGOMA

Measures of Distance


The exhibition ‘Measures of Distance’ highlights how artists reference the body and ritual through strategies of seriality and repetition. By juxtaposing artworks from diverse eras, cultures and styles, the exhibition opens up new interpretations and points of view.

The order is not rationalistic and underlying, but is simply order, like that of continuity, one thing after another.1

In 1965, minimalist artist Donald Judd described his working method as ‘one thing after another’. It was a way of escaping the excessive emotionality of Abstract Expressionism, while maintaining an emphasis on the material qualities of the artwork. Judd’s statement would go on to define a (male-dominated) generation of artists. In the following decades, a group of post-minimalist artists working in body and performance art opened up and expanded the serial strategies of Minimalism. They drew attention to the way the discourse around Minimalism excluded parallel or pre-existing histories, including the vernacular, indigenous and feminine. (Judd, himself, felt that his statement was taken out of context, and that his sculptures, with their repetitious ‘one thing after another’, were, in fact, quite ritualistic, and intimately linked to the body in scale and orientation.) Contemporary artists continue to investigate these themes.

Installation view of the exhibition, featuring Alfredo Jaar’s Rwanda 1994 / Purchased 1996 with a special allocation from the Queensland Government. Celebrating the Queensland Art Gallery’s Centenary 1895-1995; and Mike Parr’s Identification no. 1 (Rib markings in the Carnarvon Ranges, North-West Queensland) 1975, printed 1999 / Gift of the artist through the Queensland Art Gallery Foundation 2000. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program /
Photograph: Chloë Callistemon

‘Measures of Distance’ picks up these threads, bringing together works from across the Collection by artists such as Simryn Gill, Mike Parr, Alfredo Jaar, Armando Andrade Tudela and Ana Mendieta. The title — drawn from a 1988 video work by Mona Hatoum, in which she reflects on her close relationship with her distant family — also alludes to these broader themes. The exhibition presents performance and body art alongside abstract expressionist painting, installation, sculpture, video, drawing, etching and ceramics. By juxtaposing artworks from diverse eras, cultures and styles, it opens up new interpretations and points of view.

Many of the works in ‘Measures of Distance’ mimic, but also go beyond, the minimalist use of repetition, drawing attention to overlooked elements, disruptions and fragments. Inspired by a relationship with ritual and the body, some artists have used simple geometric forms and symbolic colours to reflect on dichotomies of inside and outside, centre and periphery, masculine and feminine, closeness and distance. Investigations of public and private ritual also appear here — from political, religious and social practices, to the rites of passage and personal rituals embedded in everyday activities, such as walking and eating. Three particular works encapsulate some of the exhibition’s themes.

Forking tongues

Installation view of Simryn Gill’s Forking tongues 1992 (foreground) / Purchased 2001. Queensland Art Gallery Foundation; five works from Ana Mendieta’s ‘Esculturas Rupestres’ (Rupestrian sculpture) portfolio 1982, printed 1993 (above, left) / Purchased 1996 with a special allocation from the Queensland Government. Celebrating the Queensland Art Gallery’s Centenary 1895–1995 / © Estate of Ana Mendieta; and Hermann Nitsch’s Last Supper 1976–79 (above, right) / Gift of Francesco Conz through the Queensland Art Gallery Foundation 1995 / © Hermann Nitsch/Bildrecht. Licensed by Viscopy, 2018 / Photograph: Brad Wagner

Simryn Gill’s Forking tongues 1992 places cutlery and chillies in sequence to create a spiral. Gill inverts Judd’s process of ‘one thing after another’ to play on the infinite form of the spiral, and reflect on the origins of her materials. The cutlery is of the ‘EPNS’ (electroplated nickel silver) variety, which adorned the dining tables of nations once colonised by Britain. South American chillies were introduced to South and South- East Asia, but have since become such an established part of the local culture that the chilli plant is often assumed to be native to the region. At what point does something become ‘local’, or identified as a part of the indigenous landscape? Gill often toys with this question. The open-ended spiral implies a sense of infinity, and the potential for mutation and change.

Old Mother Blood

Ana Mendieta , United States 1948-1985 / Itiba Cahubaba (Old Mother Blood) (from ‘Esculturas Rupestres’ (Rupestrian sculpture) portfolio) 1982, printed 1993 / Photo-etching on chine colle on Arches cover paper / 14 x 9.2cm (comp.) / Purchased 1996 with a special allocation from the Queensland Government. Celebrating the Queensland Art Gallery’s Centenary 1895-1995 / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery / © Estate of Ana Mendieta

Unique in her fusion of elements from Afro-Cuban culture with contemporary earthworks, performance and body art, Ana Mendieta’s shadowy photo-etchings from the portfolio ‘Esculturas Rupestres’ (Rupestrian sculptures) 1982 were made in Jaruco Park, outside Havana. Exiled as a young girl, Mendieta made these works on her return to her country of birth. The life-sized rock engravings are imprints of her body, and resemble botanic and other natural forms. As a group, they represent goddesses from the creation stories of the indigenous Taíno people of Cuba.

Sainte Sebastienne

Louise Bourgeois, France 1911-2010 / Sainte Sebastienne 1992 / Purchased 1994 with funds from the 1993 International Exhibitions Program / © The Easton Foundation/VAGA. Licensed by Viscopy, 2018

With Saint Sebastienne 1992, French artist Louise Bourgeois reconfigures the Christian martyr, Saint Sebastian, as a female figure — a recurrent image in her practice. Bourgeois regarded these works as self-portraits, conveying the psychological state ‘of being under attack, of being anxious and afraid’.In the etching, the saint resembles a carved, totemic, headless figure with heavy breasts, belly and buttocks. She is running, shot with arrows, and powerless to defend herself against the aggression. Bourgeois’s practice was a major precursor to post-minimalist body and performance art, as seen in works by Mendieta, Rebecca Horn, and even Hermann Nitsch, who feature in the exhibition.

Ana Mendieta and Simryn Gill show how the use of serial strategies can extend beyond a formal emphasis on order and continuity, while Louise Bourgeois indicates the dialogues that precede or run parallel to dominant art histories. These works each highlight the way artists in the exhibition reference the body, ritual and seriality, opening up dialogues between art histories, experiences and cultures.

1 Donald Judd, ‘Specific objects’, Arts Yearbook 8, University of California, Berkeley, 1965, http://atc.berkeley.edu/201/readings/judd-so.pdf, accessed 15 December 2017.
2 Artist statement, cited in Wolfgang Fetz and Gerald Matt, SaintSebastian: A Splendid Readiness for Death, Kerber Verlag, Vienna,2003, p.23.

READ MORE ABOUT your australian COLLECTION / Explore our current exhibitions

Abigail Bernal is Assistant Curator, International Art, QAGOMA

Feature image detail: Simryn Gill, Malaysia b.1959 / Forking tongues 1992 / Assorted cutlery with dried chillies / Purchased 2001. Queensland Art Gallery Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery / © The artist

Kalpa Vriksha

Kalam Patua / Post office 3 – the runner with the mail 2013 / Watercolour / ©: The artist

This focus project within The Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art (APT8) exhibition investigates how ancient techniques and subjects are still being used, and how they’ve evolved and become instrumental in the expression of contemporary concerns.

The artists featured in the project ‘Kalpa Vriksha: Contemporary Indigenous and Vernacular Art of India’ come from small and diverse communities in India — some indigenous, others rural and remote — with each known for its artistic traditions, unique histories and visual languages. This focus project within the exhibition investigates how ancient techniques and subjects are still being used and how they’ve evolved and become instrumental in the expression of contemporary concerns. Concentrating on a small group of younger-generation artists, Kalpa Vriksha incorporates narratives of spiritual and historical significance as well as those of everyday life, through a range of paintings and sculptures that draw on Gond, Warli, Mithila and Kalighat styles, Patachitra scrolls and Rajwar sculpture.

Balu Ladkya Dumada, Warli people / The God appears in the form of a crane bird 2010 / Acrylic and cowdung on canvas / ©: The artist

Kalpavriksha is a Sanskrit term for a divine or wish-fulfilling tree. Kalpavrikshas are mentioned in scriptures describing the creation of the earth, but the term is also applied to numerous actual trees in India, of different species depending on local belief systems. The kalpavrishka’s capacity to cross the boundaries of the vernacular and the mythical, the ancient and the contemporary, as well as its diverse geographical manifestations, makes it an appropriate metaphor for the works in this special exhibition project. Artists Balu Ladkya Dumada and Rajesh Chaitya Vangad belong to the Warli people, who are known for paintings constructed of white lines and geometric forms that convey the significance of animals, deities and local flora. Dumada specialises in painting Warli stories, while Vangad’s broader projects have included public art murals and initiatives aimed at increasing attendance in local schools.

The Gonds are one of the largest groups of indigenous peoples of India. Their artworks were originally made for dwellings and are characterised by animistic themes and intricate patterning. Venkat Raman Singh Shyam is the nephew of the renowned late Jangarh Singh Shyam, and he continues to experiment with and extend the Gond motifs and subjects.

Pushpa Kumari, Bihar, India b.1969 / Tsunami 2015 / Ink on acid-free paper / ©: The artist

Pushpa Kumari is a Madhubani or Mithila artist, whose art is customarily practised by women in the Mithila region. Kumari was taught by her grandmother, Mahasundari Devi, one of the first Mithila artists to work on paper, and addresses themes often relevant to contemporary women, such as female infanticide, dowry deaths and sexuality, as well as stories of love and union from the Ramayana.

The Chitrakar (‘picture makers’) artists in West Bengal creates long, brightly coloured scroll paintings, known as pats or patachitra, which are intimately bound up with itinerant storytelling and song. Six patua artists will feature in the exhibition, with works addressing contemporary history and social issues as well as tales from Hindu scriptures. Kalam Patua was born into this community but taught himself the Kalighat style of watercolour painting, its conventions taken from scroll and miniature painting but focusing on single scenes rather than framed narratives, and often with a satirical, autobiographical or social dimension.

Another group of artists from the Rajwar community of Surguja in the state of Chhattisgarh will present a set of figurative sculptural and architectural clay works for the exhibition. This sculptural practice is often credited to the innovation of one artist, Sonabai (c.1930–2007), whose work was shown in APT3 in 1999. For APT8, her son, Daroga Ram, and three other artists will exhibit sculptural works to represent this unique art form and demonstrate how it has continued to grow, diversify and inspire.

The Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art (APT) is the Gallery’s flagship exhibition focused on the work of Asia, the Pacific and Australia / 21 November 2015 – 10 April 2016