2023 QAGOMA medal

 

The 2023 QAGOMA Medal has been presented to Philip Bacon AO in recognition of his exceptional contribution to the development of the Collection and distinguished service to the Gallery. Philip Bacon is a longstanding member of the Foundation Committee and a former member of the Board of Trustees, as well as a transformative donor and advocate for the Gallery.

This year, we are delighted to celebrate Philip Bacon’s enduring and ongoing commitment to QAGOMA. Philip’s highly strategic giving as a collector and donor positions him among Australia’s — and certainly Queensland’s — most well-regarded philanthropists. Over decades, he has given selflessly of his deep knowledge and expertise on the arts as a board, trust and committee member of many of the country’s most significant cultural organisations, including this Gallery.

Ian Fairweather ‘Gethsemane’ 1958

Ian Fairweather, Gethsemane 1958
Ian Fairweather, Scotland/Australia 1891–1974 / Gethsemane 1958 / Gouache on cardboard on board / 145.5 x 198cm / Gift of Philip Bacon AM through the QAGOMA Foundation 2017. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery / © Ian Fairweather/DACS. Copyright Agency

A keen gallerygoer and art enthusiast from a young age, Philip was a frequent visitor to Brisbane’s handful of commercial galleries in the 1950 and 60s, where he discovered the work of Charles Blackman, Margaret Olley, Ray Crooke and Lawrence Daws. He first worked as a gallery assistant at the Grand Central Gallery in Brisbane in the late 1960s, where Keith Moore taught him much about the business of running a commercial art gallery. At the same time, he remained keenly aware of Johnstone Gallery and considered Bryan and Marjorie Johnstone to be formative role models. Johnstone Gallery’s closure in 1972 became the impetus for Philip to open his own gallery in 1974, at the urging of artists such as Daws, Blackman and, especially, Olley. He found premises in a run-down former tile factory in Fortitude Valley’s Arthur Street — a site he incrementally developed into a building that remains Philip Bacon Galleries almost 50 years later.

Eugène Von Guérard ‘A view from Mt Franklin towards Mount Kooroocheang and the Pyrenees’ c.1864

Eugène von Guérard, Austria/Australia 1811–1901 / A view from Mt Franklin towards Mount Kooroocheang and the Pyrenees c.1864 / Oil on canvas / 35.5 x 63.8cm / Purchased 2008 with funds from Philip Bacon AM through the QAG Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art

Of his enduring reverence for the power of art, Philip has said: ‘I had always loved being in art galleries — with their silence and atmosphere of peace, of escape from the outside world; it was much like being in a cathedral. Plus, of course, there were the pictures and sculptures, beautifully lit and displayed’.1

Auspiciously, next year will mark the fiftieth year of Brisbane’s Philip Bacon Galleries, a landmark reached by few Australian gallerists in the country’s history. As well as representing many of the artists who first encouraged him to go into the business, Philip went on to patiently champion a new generation of creative voices, and to be dubbed ‘the wise counsellor to a generation of Australian artists whose names have worked their way into the country’s consciousness’ by the Australian Financial Review.2 A notable example of this was his friendship with Olley and his subsequent role of steering her estate through the Margaret Olley Art Trust, both being instrumental in QAGOMA realising the major exhibition ‘Margaret Olley: A Generous Life’ in 2019. Philip wrote a touching recollection of their many years of friendship for the accompanying exhibition publication.

George Lambert ‘Self portrait with Ambrose Patterson, Amy Lambert and Hugh Ramsay’ c.1901–03

George W Lambert, Australia/England 1873–1930 / Self Portrait with Ambrose Patterson, Amy Lambert and Hugh Ramsay 1901–03 / Oil on canvas / 51.5 x 177cm / Purchased 2009 with funds from Philip Bacon AM through the Queensland Art Gallery Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art

Philip Bacon’s remarkable philanthropic contribution to the Gallery’s Collection began in 1985, building to an exceptional patronage that places him among our most generous donors, which was acknowledged in 2009 when Galleries 7, 8 and 9 at QAG were named in his honour. He has gifted and, as importantly, enabled the Gallery to acquire, many highly significant works of art. These include iconic Australian works such as Ian Fairweather’s Gethsemane 1958 (illustrated), Eugène von Guérard’s A view from Mt Franklin towards Mount Kooroocheang and the Pyrenees c.1864 (illustrated) and George Lambert’s Self portrait with Ambrose Patterson, Amy Lambert and Hugh Ramsay c.1901–03 (illustrated); and major international works like Edgar Degas’s sculpture Danseuse regardant la plante de son pied droit, quatrième étude c.1882–1900, cast before 1954 (illustrated), given in memory of Olley.

Philip served on the Queensland Art Gallery Board of Trustees from 2012 to 2017 and has played an influential role as a member of the QAGOMA Foundation Committee since 2013. His dedication to the arts and culture stretches well beyond QAGOMA: he is a longstanding Board member of the Brisbane Festival, Trustee of the Gordon Darling Foundation, and has served on boards and councils for a range of organisations including Opera Australia, the Order of Australia, the National Gallery of Australia and the Queensland Music Festival.

Edgar Degas ‘Dancer looking at the sole of her right foot, fourth study’ c.1882-1900, cast before 1954

Edgar Degas, France 1834–1917 / Danseuse regardant la plante de son pied droit, quatrième étude (Dancer looking at the sole of her right foot, fourth study) c.1882-1900, cast before 1954 / Bronze, dark brown and green patina / 46.2 x 25 x 18cm / Gift of Philip Bacon AM in memory of Margaret Olley AC through the QAGOMA Foundation 2012. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art

Philip’s acumen and largesse have been widely and deservedly recognised. He was made a Member of the Order of Australia in 1999, then an Officer of the Order in 2021 for distinguished service to the arts, to social and cultural organisations, and through support for young artists. He was made an honorary Doctor of Philosophy by the University of Queensland in 1999 and named a Queensland Great ten years later. In 2019, Philip was inducted into the Queensland Business Leaders Hall of Fame, cited as ‘Australia’s leading art dealer’, and recognised as a Leading Philanthropist by both the Queensland Community Foundation and Philanthropy Australia.

In 2023, the Queensland Art Gallery Board of Trustees and Director are pleased to add to these accolades by awarding the QAGOMA Medal to Philip Bacon AO.

Chris Saines CNZM is Director, QAGOMA

Endnotes
1 Philip Bacon, quoted in 40 Years, 40 Paintings: An Anniversary Loan Exhibition [exhibition catalogue], Philip Bacon Galleries, Brisbane, 2014, unpaginated.
2 Tony Walker, ‘Why Philip Bacon is Australia’s go-to art dealer’, Australian Financial Review Magazine, 29 April 2016, https://www.afr.com/life-and-luxury/why-philip-bacon-is-australiasgoto-art-dealer-20160321-gnnecv, accessed 16 October 2023.

Featured image: The 2023 QAGOMA Medal recipient, Philip Bacon AO, with Ian Fairweather’s Gethsemane 1958 / Gift of Philip Bacon AM through the QAGOMA Foundation 2017. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program / Photograph: C Baxter © QAGOMA

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Fairy Tales: Once upon a time

 

The ‘Fairy Tales’ exhibition at Brisbane’s Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) until 28 April 2024 explores our fascination with this much-loved genre through a multifaceted telling of these tales in art, film and design. It explores the archetypal figures and situations we identify whenever we are reminded of fairy tales, whether reading them to children or seeing them reappear through the looking glass of contemporary culture. Through painting, sculpture, photography, installation, cinema and film props, costumes and design, the exhibition reminds us how visual storytellers summon up timeworn narratives to entrance, delight and disconcert their audiences. Magic, enchantment and transformation remain amazing tools to process and respond to real‑world challenges.

Buy Tickets to ‘Fairy Tales’
Until 28 April 2024
Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane

Once upon a time, long before streaming services, movies and television, oral stories were shared between people to pass the time and for entertainment. Simple in structure, clear and often conveying the values and behaviours of community life, these folkloric tales sometimes arrived at dark and gruesome endings. The origins of many of these stories are ancient. While the form and function of their telling have changed over time — shifting and evolving through different eras and societies — their universal purpose connects us all. The ‘Fairy Tales’ exhibition at GOMA takes audiences into the faraway land of these magical stories that have cast their enduring spell on children and adults alike.

Gustave Doré ‘Sleeping Beauty’ illustration 1867

Gustave Dore, France 1832–83 / ‘Sleeping Beauty’ illustration from Charles Perrault’s Les Contes de Perrault (1867) / Image courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

RELATED: Journey through the Fairy Tales exhibition with our weekly series

Across the centuries, these stories have been retold, reshaped and re-imagined, and in the late 1600s, oral folklores found their way into print. One of the earliest attributed fairy tale authors is Frenchman Charles Perrault, whose work Tales of Mother Goose (1697) included the stories ‘Little Red Riding Hood’, ‘The Sleeping Beauty in the Wood’, ‘Cinderella’ and ‘Donkey Skin’. While familiar to most of us by name, it is fair to say these stories were not first published as we recognise them today. Their outcomes were often darker: the big bad wolf really did eat Little Red Riding Hood, Donkey Skin’s father was not so well intentioned, and living ‘happily ever after’ was a state all too rarely achieved.

Gustave Doré ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ 1862

Gustave Doré, France 1832-83 / Little Red Riding Hood c.1862 / Oil on canvas / 65.3 × 81.7cm / Gift of Mrs S. Horne, 1962 / Collection: National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

Lotte Reiniger (Director) Cinderella 1922 

Lotte Reiniger (Director), Germany/England 1899–1981 / Cinderella 1922 / 35mm film transferred to digital: 13 minutes, black and white (tinted), silent; German/English intertitles; animator: Lotte Reiniger; producer: Hans Curlis; script: Humbert Wolfe; cinematographer: Carl Koch / © British Film institute / Image courtesy: British Film Institute

In the early 1800s, two German brothers with a love for folklore drew together more than 200 oral and written stories from across cultures into what is considered the earliest and most comprehensive collection of folk stories. Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm were academics in the field of linguistics and dedicated their time to collecting and studying these stories, which they believed purely expressed the joys and sorrows, hopes and fears of humankind. In publishing their versions of tales such as ‘Hansel and Gretel’, ‘Rapunzel’ and ‘Snow White’, the Brothers Grimm translated them in ways they felt were faithful to their folkloric source. These stories soon spread throughout the world.

Meanwhile, during the same period in Denmark, Hans Christian Andersen was flourishing as a writer of fantastical and magical stories featuring animals and inanimate objects given human voices and mannerisms. In these stories, the values of a good heart, and kindness to the young and voiceless were customarily extolled. Unlike the Brothers Grimm, Andersen wrote original works, including ‘The Little Mermaid’, ‘The Ugly Duckling’ and ‘The Nightingale’, many of which would lodge permanently in our imagination.

Hans Christian Andersen ‘Swans with ballerinas’ 1850s–70s

Hans Christian Andersen, Denmark 1805–75 / Swans with ballerinas c.1850s–70s / Paper, mounted on card / 9.4 x 13.6cm / Collection: Museum Odense, Denmark / Image courtesy: Museum Odense

Literary fairy tales — whose alluring magical distractions provide a way to reflect on society’s complexities, and offer ways to negotiate a path forward — have endured across cultures. They often share cautionary messages not to stray from the path or talk to strangers, as well as hopeful ideas like love conquers all, and that kindness and compassion win in the end. Fairy tales are a distinct genre of fiction that can be told and enjoyed without real-world consequences. They are a way of reinforcing messages parents long for their children to heed, which has only been heightened in the modern era by their adaptation into cinema.

‘The Company of Wolves‘ screens at the Australian Cinémathèque, GOMA

Neil Jordan, Ireland b.1950 / Production still from The Company of Wolves 1984 / 35mm, colour, stereo, 95 minutes, England, English / Director: Neil Jordan / Producers: Chris Brown, Stephen Woolley / Script: Angela Carter, Neil Jordan / Cinematographer: Bryan Loftus / Editor: Rodney Holland / Cast: Angela Lansbury, Sarah Patterson, Micha Bergese, Stephen Rea, David Warner / © Park Circus/ ITV Studios / Image courtesy: Park Circus / Screening at the Australian Cinémathèque, GOMA

In 1937 Walt Disney, a young innovator working in Hollywood, produced the animated feature film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. This transformation from folklore to Hollywood film not only amplified the possibilities for fairy tales in this new medium, but also ensured they were embedded into our cultural fabric via even wider distribution. The Walt Disney Company brand is now synonymous with so many of these stories. Holding such a pre-eminent position in global culture has seen the Disney cinematic fairy tale evolve to reflect the interests and social agendas of our changing world. Similarly, to explore fairy tales today without considering the influence of film would be analogous to painting over the yellow brick road.

While the ‘Fairy Tales’ exhibition draws us deep into that realm of inquiry, it also reminds us that folktales began as stories passed between adults — long before they were passed down to become the domain of children.

Chris Saines CNZM, QAGOMA Director
This edited extract was originally published in Fairy Tales in Art and Film, Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art, 2023

The ‘Fairy Tales’ exhibition is at Brisbane’s Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA), Australia from 2 December 2023 until 28 April 2024.

Fairy Tales Cinema: Truth, Power and Enchantment‘ presented in conjunction with GOMA’s blockbuster summer exhibition screens at the Australian Cinémathèque, GOMA from 2 December 2023 until 28 April 2024.

The major publication ‘Fairy Tales in Art and Film’ available at the QAGOMA Store and online explores how fairy tales have held our fascination for centuries through art and culture.

From gift ideas, treats just for you or the exhibition publication, visit the ‘Fairy Tales’ exhibition shop at GOMA or online.

‘Fairy Tales’ merchandise available at the GOMA exhibition shop or online.

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Michael Zavros: The favourite

 

Whether realised through the meticulously rendered paintings for which he is best known or through digital photography, video, performance or sculpture, Michael Zavros’s body of work is art-directed and aestheticised to the nth degree. While many are drawn to its largely undisturbed world of luxury, order and beauty, other people are left wondering, even troubled, by its deeper meaning or intent. (In what world are things that perfect?) Replete as Zavros’s works are with objects of desire, the term ‘superficial’ is too easily attached to them. It is as if admiration of his technical virtuosity is a zero-sum game, which
somehow limits entry to the broader ideas he engages with. More than the culmination of their deftly blended brushstrokes, Zavros’s works stylise and reframe rather than imitate reality.

Zavros’s formal training focused on the discipline of printmaking, and was heavily scaffolded by the development of his drawing skills. Zavros was building on a childhood passion and a skill in which he was self-evidently accomplished. This talent gave him the power to imitate reality for its own sake, which, while on one level was captivating, on another risked leading to an imaginative and artistic dead end. As he rapidly made his mark on the art world — mainly through an early focus on hyper-realist paintings based on GQ magazine advertisements for bespoke men’s tailoring, and magnificent if jaded representations of European palace interiors (illustrated Unicorn in the anticamera 2008) — he began to reinvent his luxe subject matter across every genre he embraced, be it still life, portraiture or landscape.

Michael Zavros ‘Unicorn in the anticamera’

Michael Zavros, Australia b.1974 / Unicorn in the anticamera 2008 / Oil on board / 24.8 x 20cm / Purchased 2009. The Queensland Government’s Gallery of Modern Art Acquisitions Fund / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Michael Zavros

Michael Zavros ‘Echo’

Michael Zavros, Australia b.1974 / Echo 2009 / Oil on canvas / 210 x 320cm / Collection: Aaron Giddings / © Michael Zavros

Among the things that differentiate Zavros from many artists of his generation are, perhaps foremost, his unapologetic yet knowing love of beauty. Others are the close attention he has long paid to Western art
history and contemporary design culture — the aura of the ‘designer’ brand — and his devotion to his craft. These hallmarks could and have been attributed not only to his proud European heritage but also his fixation on beauty. Whether through the time vested in its production, the aesthetic affect it creates or the conceptual raison d’être that drives it, Zavros’s work is inescapably about him: his lifestyle — real or imagined — his family, his interests and values, his worldview. Of course, framed in other terms, this could be said of many artists before him (Andy Warhol comes to mind). But as Zavros lives a relatively public life, not least online, his choice of subject matter can’t help but amplify the mystique of how his life intersects with his art.

Michael Zavros ‘White Onagadori’

Michael Zavros, Australia b.1974 / White Onagadori 2006 / Oil on board / 17.5 x 17.5cm / Collection: Sarah Greer and Damian Clothier KC / © Michael Zavros

Michael Zavros ‘The Poodle’

Michael Zavros, Australia b.1974 / The Poodle 2014 / Oil on canvas / 135 x 150cm / Private collection, Sydney / © Michael Zavros

Status symbols abound in them both, expressed in powerful equine portraits, whose pedigree can be traced to British artist George Stubbs’s Whistlejacket 1762 (National Gallery, London), or paintings of the rare Japanese Onagadori breed of chicken, with its impractically long tail (illustrated White Onagadori 2006). Stately palace interiors are rendered in monochrome, sometimes appointed with gym equipment (illustrated Echo 2009), and furniture is draped in exotic animal skins set against coveted works of art — luxury goods as memento mori. Despite the surface detail, there are always layers to Zavros’s works, a series of tongue-incheek still-life paintings depicting painstaking studio arrangements of flowers (illustrated The Poodle 2014) are described by Zavros as ‘the culmination of a performance’ and ‘a baroque folly’, on account of the time it took to arrange and paint these tableaux before the flowers wilted in the Queensland heat. And his ‘Prince/Zavros’ series 2012–13 (illustrated Prince/Zavros 5 2012) includes a re-creation of the iconic Marlboro Man advertisements famously rephotographed by American artist Richard Prince: a nested doll of appropriation that returns the contested image one step further back towards fine art.

Michael Zavros ‘Prince/Zavros 5’

Michael Zavros, Australia b.1974 / Prince/Zavros 5 2012 / Oil on board / 23 x 12.9cm / Gift of Dr Leonie Gray through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program 2017 / Collection: Rockhampton Museum of Art / © Michael Zavros

Raised on the Gold Coast hinterland, the son of Greek-Cypriot and Irish schoolteacher parents, Zavros grew up with an aspirational yearning for high-end goods. This first played out on visits with his father to luxury-car dealerships, echoes of which are found in the redoubled self‑portrait V12/Narcissus 2009 (illustrated). This painting is at once an homage to Italian master Caravaggio’s Narcissus 1597–99 (Palazzo Barberini, Rome) and to the artist’s prized black Mercedes-Benz, highly polished and thus endlessly reflective, in which an obsessively circular desire for perfection is unable to ever be resolved.

Michael Zavros ‘V12/Narcissus’

Michael Zavros, Australia b.1974 / V12/Narcissus 2009 / Oil on board / 20 x 29.5cm / Collection: Art Gallery of New South Wales – Gift of the artist 2013. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program / © Michael Zavros

Zavros’s self is also a common subject, whether represented as Narcissus in paintings such as Bad dad 2013, or by one of a number of surrogates that blur the edges of his identity. His self-portraiture also extends to his children, in particular eldest daughter Phoebe — his self‑described ‘me, outside of me’ — and increasingly his son Leo.

In the painting Phoebe is 11/Linda Farrow 2017, Zavros is also seen reflected, photographing his daughter in her designer sunglasses — an inversion of Jan van Eyck’s The Arnolfini portrait 1434 (National Gallery, London) in which the artist famously appears, in the act of painting the marriage portrait, in a mirror in the background. Recent photographic series bring an entirely different lens to depicting a more sculpted and flawless self. Zavros casts model Sean O’Pry (illustrated) as a younger, more perfect double, and, taking substitution to its extreme, inserts Dad — a finely hewn bespoke mannequin — into carefully if oddly staged family snapshots (illustrated Dad likes Mercedes 2020).

Michael Zavros ‘Self-portrait with Sean O’Pry’

Michael Zavros, Australia b.1974 / Self-portrait with Sean O’Pry 2015 / Archival ink on Hahnemühle photo rag, ed. of 5 / 120 x 90cm / Collection: Michael Zavros / © Michael Zavros

Michael Zavros ‘Dad likes Mercedes’

Michael Zavros, Australia b.1974 / Dad likes Mercedes 2020 / Lightjet print on C-type paper, ed. of 3 + 2AP / 172.7 x 122cm / Collection: Michael Zavros / © Michael Zavros

Michael Zavros ‘Dad likes winter’

Michael Zavros / Dad likes winter 2020 / Lightjet print on C-type paper, ed. of 3 + 2AP / 172.7 x 122cm / © Michael Zavros

In a new commission, Drowned Mercedes 2023 (illustrated work in progress), Zavros stages a classic open‑top Mercedes-Benz SL-Class in the centre of the gallery, its interior cavity filled with water. Peering into the luxury vehicle, visitors see its immaculately crafted wood‑and‑leather detailing submerged in water and, V12/Narcissus-like, they also see themselves. Zavros is known for creating works whose meaning can be arcane and elusive, even obtuse. In this vein, Drowned Mercedes could be read as a warning about climate change, or as a critique of the irrationality of misspent wealth, or both. In many ways, the idea of the English eighteenth-century folly — an ornamental building designed to conjure up the Classical past (precisely like the subject of Zavros’s own Love’s temple 2006) — seems to fit this work best. A classic car rendered impossible to drive but that still looks, strangely, perfect.

Michael Zavros ‘Drowned Mercedes’ (work in progress)

Michael Zavros, Australia b.1974 / Drowned Mercedes (work in progress) 2023 / Found car, resin, steel, water / 129.3 x 181.2 x 449.9cm / © Michael Zavros

Implicated in the world of putative quality and luxury, fashion and appearance, Zavros’s idealised imagery speaks to the Australia driven by conspicuous consumption, self-improvement and individualism; although to what end is not always clear. Zavros’s subject matter, not to mention his exquisite rendering of it, attracts both praise and opprobrium for its perceived materialism and ostensible superficiality. 

Chris Saines, CNZM is Director, QAGOMA
This edited extract was originally published in Michael Zavros: The Favourite, Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art, 2023

Michael Zavros: The Favourite‘ in 1.1 (The Fairfax Gallery) and 1.2 was at the Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) in Brisbane from 24 June to 2 October 2023. This exhibition offered opportunities for dialogue with ‘eX de Medici: Beautiful Wickedness’ presented in the adjacent gallery 1.2 and 1.3 (Eric and Marion Taylor Gallery).

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eX de Medici: Beautiful Wickedness

 

eX de Medici’s extraordinarily layered works reveal the artist’s ongoing concern with the value and fragility of life, global affairs, greed, commerce, conflict and death.

‘Oh, what a world, what a world! Who would have thought a good little girl like you could destroy my beautiful wickedness?’, screeches the Wicked Witch of the West in Victor Fleming’s 1939 screen classic The Wizard of Oz. They are the last words the villain utters before she melts, having been inadvertently doused in water by the film’s innocent protagonist Dorothy, who is trying to extinguish a fire the witch has lit. The movie is a psychoanalytic response to L Frank Baum’s allegorical novel, which alludes to unscrupulous industrial magnates — so-called robber barons — who preyed on human and natural resources across the United States’ drought-ravaged Midwest at the dawn of the twentieth century. As John Steinbeck wrote in the opening of his contemporaneous masterpiece The Grapes of Wrath (1939): ‘The clouds appeared and went away, and in a while they did not try anymore’, as the banks and the industrial-scale ranchers proceeded to devastate the livelihoods of the small landholders in their path.

eX de Medici ‘Blue (Bower/Bauer)’

eX de Medici, Australia b.1959 / Blue (Bower/Bauer) 1998–2000 / Watercolour over pencil on paper / 114 x 152.8cm / Purchased 2004 / Collection: National Gallery of Australia, Canberra / © eX de Medici

Subversive, countercultural and brilliantly surreal, The Wizard of Oz metaphorically sets up many of the targets eX de Medici trains her sights on. An avowed environmentalist and activist, the artist is dedicated to uncloaking abuses of power and revealing their effects on ordinary and everyday lives, highlighting the excesses of global capitalism, and disclosing the economic imperatives that drive public policymaking. She has steadily and defiantly followed a yellow brick road of ‘wicked’ beauty, seducing viewers with enthralling detail to expose the opaque underbelly of consumerism and the insidious reach of systems of surveillance, authority and state-sanctioned control.

The largest exhibition of her 40-year career, ‘Beautiful Wickedness’ takes us into the exquisitely dark heart of de Medici’s abiding concerns: the value and fragility of life, global affairs, greed and commerce, and the enmeshed, universal themes of conflict and death. Crossing over different artistic paths, she has been resolute in her critique of inequitable and unethical social and political systems.

eX de Medici ‘Pure Impulse Control’

eX de Medici, Australia b.1959 / Pure Impulse Control 2008 / Watercolour on paper / 110 x 114cm / Luke Fildes Collection / © eX de Medici / Photograph: Murray Fredericks

Responding to the labyrinthine manoeuvres of world politics and the destructive influences of state and corporate power, de Medici conceals surreptitious yet razor-sharp barbs among lush arrangements of historical and contemporary emblems of excess. The recurring motifs of the moth and the gun represent two parallel figurative ecologies: nature with its evolutionary imperative to survive versus the self-destructive impulses of humans whose technologies are rapidly destroying them and the planet.

In de Medici’s own terms, ‘I have in my work, tried to examine the pernicious forces at work within the human hegemony — the fetishistic allure of power over the macro and the micro, the human and the non-human’.1 In this regard, paintings like The Theory of Everything 2005 (illustrated) seem indexical to her assault on the relentless march of cultural consumerism and, paradoxically, on the creation of natural wastelands in its wake.

eX de Medici ‘The theory of everything’

eX de Medici, Australia b.1959 / The theory of everything 2005 / Watercolour and metallic pigment on paper / 114.3 x 176.3cm / Purchased 2005 / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © eX de Medici

eX de Medici ‘System (This is the Place Where the Martyrs Grow)’

eX de Medici, Australia b.1959 / System (This is the Place Where the Martyrs Grow) (detail) 2022 / Watercolour and tempera with gold leaf on paper / Three panels; two panels: 114 x 115cm; one panel: 114 x 145cm; 114 x 375cm (overall) / Collection: eX de Medici / © eX de Medici / Photograph: Rob Little Digital Images

Chris Saines, CNZM is Director, QAGOMA
This edited extract was originally published in eX de Medici: Beautiful Wickedness, Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art, 2023

Endnote
1 eX de Medici, ‘NVAEC 2016: Plenary session 1 – eX de Medici’ [20 January 2016], National Visual Arts Education Conference (NVAEC), National Gallery of Australia, 15 June 2016, <nga.gov.au/on-demand/nvaec-2016-plenarysession-1-ex-de-medici/>, viewed September 2022.

‘eX de Medici: Beautiful Wickedness’ in 1.2 and 1.3 (Eric and Marion Taylor Gallery) was at GOMA from 24 June until 2 October 2023. ‘Beautiful Wickedness’ offered opportunities for dialogue with ‘Michael Zavros: The Favourite‘ presented in the adjacent gallery 1.1 (The Fairfax Gallery) and 1.2.

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Inaugural acquisitions: The Josephine Ulrick and Win Schubert Charitable Trust Collection

 

Win Schubert was one of this Gallery’s greatest friends and most ardent and involved donors, gifting and supporting work that always encouraged and lifted our ambition. Win truly believed in the potential of art to touch lives, to open minds and excite the imagination. And, at its best, to bring people together in shared curiosity and wonder. I genuinely think Win understood the mystery of art, but she also knew her way around the art world.

These three works honour and continue that spirit, even if they could hardly be more different in their scale and the method of their making. Yet there are three things that bind them closely, three things that hint at the direction we hope to take as this Trust Collection grows from this beginning.

The first is that Olafur Eliasson, Fiona Hall and Tacita Dean are all mid-late career artists who have remained consistently inventive for decades. Each has represented their country at the Venice Biennale, and each is represented in some of the world’s most significant public and private collections. Their inclusion in major solo and group exhibitions is similarly deep and wide — they have built substantial and enduring reputations at home and abroad. We chose their work to form the foundation of the Trust Collection because they are singular artists of great distinction and deserved acclaim in the global art world.

Olafur Eliasson ‘Riverbed’ 2014 

Olafur Eliasson, Denmark b.1967 / Riverbed 2014 (installation view) / Installed for ‘Water’, GOMA, 2019–20 / Water, rock (volcanic stones (blue basalt, basalt, lava, other stones, gravel, sand), wood, steel, plastic sheeting, hose, pumps / Installed dimensions variable / Purchased 2021. The Josephine Ulrick and Win Schubert Charitable Trust / Collection: The Josephine Ulrick and Win Schubert Charitable Trust, Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Olafur Eliasson / Photograph: N Harth © QAGOMA

Fiona Hall Australian set’ 1998–99 

Fiona Hall, Australia b.1953 / Detail Australian set: Julunayn (Bundjalung); Bottle tree; Brackychiton ruprestis from Australian set (from ‘Paradisus Terrestris Entitled’ series) 1998–99 / Aluminium and tin / Thirteen pieces: 28 x 18 x 4cm (each, approx.) / Purchased 2021. The Josephine Ulrick and Win Schubert Charitable Trust / Collection: The Josephine Ulrick and Win Schubert Charitable Trust, Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Fiona Hall

Tacita Dean ‘Chalk Fall’ 2018

Tacita Dean, United Kingdom b.1965 / Chalk Fall 2018 / Chalk on blackboard / Nine panels: 121.9 x 243.8cm (each); 365.8 x 731.5cm (overall) / Purchased 2021. The Josephine Ulrick and Win Schubert Charitable Trust / Collection: The Josephine Ulrick and Win Schubert Charitable Trust, Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Tacita Dean / Image courtesy: Marian Goodman Gallery, New York

Second, they are artists who all have a thorough command of scale, one of art’s least well understood attributes. It shifts register from the jewellery-like intimacy of Hall’s sardine tins; to the reach of Dean’s wall-based chalk mural; to the gallery-scaled drama of Eliasson’s installation.

Looking at Fiona Hall’s work from any distance is entirely unhelpful. It’s impossible to absorb the humour with which she has defined dual zones to counterpoint erogenous body parts and botanical species, or to read the coded languages of their titles. Using a repoussé technique to work her aluminium — engraving, chasing and burnishing in the tradition of the colonial silversmith — she has cut and hammered out two astonishing series of works. Taken together with their companion series, held in the National Gallery of Victoria and National Gallery of Australia, they confirm her place in the story of contemporary art.

Watch | Fiona Hall ‘Australian set’ 1998–99 and ‘Sri Lankan set’ 1999 (from ‘Paradisus Terrestris’ series)

Fiona Hall Australian set’ 1998–99 

Fiona Hall, Australia b.1953 / (left) Works from Australian set (from ‘Paradisus Terrestris Entitled’ series) 1998–99 / Aluminium and tin / Thirteen pieces: 28 x 18 x 4cm (each, approx.) / (right) Works from Sri Lankan set (from ‘Paradisus Terrestris’ series) 1999 / Aluminium and tin / Eight pieces: 28x 18 x 4cm (each, approx.) /  Purchased 2021. The Josephine Ulrick and Win Schubert Charitable Trust / Collection: The Josephine Ulrick and Win Schubert Charitable Trust, Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Fiona Hall

RELATED: Founding works: The Josephine Ulrick and Win Schubert Charitable Trust Collection

Tacita Dean holds a similar place, a British artist who in 2018 had her work shown simultaneously at the London National Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery and the Royal Academy of Arts. Her commanding, mural-scaled chalk drawings reach across time to summon up the sublime landscapes of JMW Turner, but expand even his imposing scale to cinematic proportions. For all their majestic grandeur, these monumental chalk drawings are intensely personal, diaristic palimpsests, of which this is perhaps the most personal of them all. Looking at Tacita Dean’s work will take distance and closeness when it debuts in ‘Air’ this coming summer.

Olafur Eliasson’s work, moreover, has already featured in ‘Water’, which we presented over the 2019-20 summer. Like Dean’s and Cai Guo-Qiang’s Heritage before it, it is a meditation on the impact of climate change, as it has affected the artist’s home in Iceland and as it continues to affect the world. By staging a reimagined landscape at 1:1 scale in the museum, Eliasson asks us to reconsider how we think about both nature and culture, precisely as Hall has done. This time, looking requires walking into and through the work itself.

Thirdly, the thing common to each of these works is the beautiful and surprising way in which they reveal their mystery through the most basic of materials. As Hall lifts sardine tins and drink cans to new aesthetic and iconographic heights; Dean pushes white chalk far beyond its mundane purpose; and Eliasson recasts the natural world. There is for each, expressed in their conceptual approach and revealed through the humble materiality of their work, a belief in the power of artistic alchemy.

For this announcement, we were delighted to receive video messages from Olafur Eliasson and Tacita Dean, and to be joined in person at the Gallery by Fiona Hall, and to hear each artist speak about the ideas and processes behind these important works of art.

This is an edited excerpt of a speech given by QAGOMA Director Chris Saines CNZM for the announcement of the inaugural acquisitions for The Josephine Ulrick and Win Schubert Charitable Trust Collection at the Queensland Art Gallery on Friday 27 May 2022.

Watch | Tacita Dean ‘Chalk Fall’ 2018

Tacita Dean, United Kingdom b.1965 / Chalk Fall 2018 / Chalk on blackboard / Nine panels: 121.9 x 243.8cm (each); 365.8 x 731.5cm (overall) / Purchased 2021. The Josephine Ulrick and Win Schubert Charitable Trust / Collection: The Josephine Ulrick and Win Schubert Charitable Trust, Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Tacita Dean

Watch | Olafur Eliasson ‘Riverbed’ 2014

Olafur Eliasson, Denmark b.1967 / Riverbed 2014 / Water, rock (volcanic stones (blue basalt, basalt, lava, other stones, gravel, sand), wood, steel, plastic sheeting, hose, pumps / Installed dimensions variable / Purchased 2021. The Josephine Ulrick and Win Schubert Charitable Trust / Collection: The Josephine Ulrick and Win Schubert Charitable Trust, Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Olafur Eliasson

Featured image: Fiona Hall Australian set (from ‘Paradisus Terrestris Entitled’ series) 1998–99

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Vale: Robert MacPherson

 

When Robert MacPherson AM died, on 12 November 2021, aged 84, Australia lost one of the most important artists of his generation. What made his contribution so remarkable was the way in which he translated the arcane languages and modes of contemporary art, particularly those of conceptualism and minimalism, into images and objects that formed a reply to everyday life. MacPherson was an ‘artist’s artist’, someone whose work commands immense respect among the contemporary art community but whose contribution to broader visual culture is perhaps less well known than it deserves to be. In a career spanning 50 years, he exhibited nationally as well as in the Sharjah Biennial in the United Arab Emirates and in group exhibitions in Lisbon, The Hague, Berlin, Sao Paolo and Singapore. More than that, he is extensively represented in our national and state gallery collections, including here in Queensland.

The Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA) presented a career-spanning survey of MacPherson’s work, ‘The Painter’s Reach’, in 2015. The exhibition drew together the disparate strands of his interests, revealing an artist who spent his lifetime attending to notionally simple ideas, unfolding their endless complexity and potential for artistic enquiry. ‘The Painter’s Reach’ was about making works of art, the work of the ‘artist’ (in contrast to that of the ‘painter’) and the nature of ‘work’ itself. Often described as an auto-didact, MacPherson’s deep curiosity grew out of a fascination with rules and systems of all kinds; whether drawing on the history of art and social history, or the natural world and its taxonomies. His work was grounded in his biography: driven by a deep family connection to the land and his history as a cane field worker, a ringer, and a ship painter and docker. For MacPherson, art and life were inextricably joined.

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Robert MacPherson, Australia 1937-2021 / 1000 FROG POEMS: 1000 BOSS DROVERS (“YELLOW LEAF FALLING”) FOR H.S. 1996–2014 / 2,400 sheets / Purchased 2014 with funds from the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art Foundation, Paul and Susan Taylor, and Donald and Christine McDonald / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Estate of Robert MacPherson

1000 FROG POEMS: 1000 BOSS DROVERS

Robert MacPherson, Australia 1937-2021 / 1000 FROG POEMS: 1000 BOSS DROVERS (“YELLOW LEAF FALLING”) FOR H.S. (detail) 1996-2014 / Graphite, ink and stain on paper / 2400 sheets: 30 x 42cm (each) / Purchased 2014. Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Estate of Robert MacPherson

‘The Painter’s Reach’ featured a work from the QAGOMA Collection that is unarguably one of MacPherson’s greatest achievements. Previously unseen at full scale, 1000 Frog Poems: 1000 Boss Drovers (‘Yellow Leaf Falling’) For H.S. 1996–2014 (illustrated), comprises 2400 A3 sketch-pad sheets bearing ink, pen and pencil portraits with cursive tributes to the Boss Drover in its margins. Each is drawn under the guise and hand of Robert Pene, a 10-year-old student at St Joseph’s Convent in Nambour, and dated 14 February 1947, MacPherson’s 10th birthday. They form an impossibly vast mosaic filled with the legendary men and women who drove cattle along the storied stock routes of the east coast. It is a work of brilliant archival research and artistic vision, whose epic and obsessive presence echoes and amplifies the unassuming love and precision invested in its making. Unsurprisingly, for MacPherson, it dignifies and memorialises humble but hard-working lives.

Mayfair: (Swamp rats)

Robert MacPherson, Australia 1937-2021 / Mayfair: (Swamp rats) Ninety-seven signs for C.P., J.P., B.W., G.W. & R.W. 1994-95 / Acrylic on masonite / 97 panels: 92 x 61cm (each); 370 x 1573cm or 556 x 1069cm (installed) / Purchased 1998 with a special allocation from the Queensland Government. Celebrating the Queensland Art Gallery’s Centenary 1895-1995 / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Estate of Robert MacPherson

Perhaps MacPherson’s most instantly recognisable works belong to his ‘Mayfair’ series, including QAGOMA’s Mayfair: (Swamp Rats) Ninety-Seven Signs for C.P., J.P., B.W., G.W. & R.W. 1994-94 (illustrated). It taps into the hand-painted blackboard roadside signs that appear on the verges of our regional highways –the white-on-masonite words that alert us to, for example, the block ice and bait to be found 500, then 250, metres along the road. This random and poetic and wonderfully ironic exploration of the amateur sign-maker’s art elevates the ‘Mayfair’ series beyond the vernacular and enables it to cross over into the lingua franca of the contemporary art world. This use of amateur roadside signs as a locus of meaning and a source of cultural knowledge, combined with his deep affection for the universality of language, gave him an unerring ability to define an Australian idiom.

Robert MacPherson lived and made art in Brisbane for five decades. He received an honorary Doctorate from Griffith University in 1995 and the Australia Council Emeritus Award in 1997. In 2015, he was recognised as a Queensland Great and honoured for his formative role in the history of Brisbane’s Institute of Modern Art. He was made a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) in 2020. Reflecting on his career, I feel bound to say that it’s all too easy to overlook rigorous and serious artists like MacPherson, whose work requires our close attention but refuses to seduce it. Vale Robert MacPherson, who pursued his artistic project with a certainty and a sense of purpose that consciously eschewed critical and public recognition. Now that we have lost him, it’s time we looked again at what he left behind.

Chris Saines CNZM is Director, Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art

Featured image: Robert MacPherson, Brisbane, 2014 / Photograph: M Sherwood © QAGOMA
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