Masters of the fifteenth century, such as Lucas van Leyden and Heinrich Aldegrever, transformed printmaking into a refined art form and have influenced artists for centuries.
The Gallery’s historical international holdings of Old Master prints comprised of etchings, woodcuts and engravings by artist–printmakers from the fifteenth to the eighteenth centuries includes works by Lucas van Leyden (1494–1533), Anthonie Waterloo (c.1610–90), Heinrich Aldegrever (1502–c.1561), Pieter Jansz Saenredam (1597–1665), Jan Both (c.1610-18 – 1652), Abraham Bosse (c.1602–76) and Salvator Rosa (1615–73). They vary in theme, size and quality of impression, and range across biblical, allegorical and genre subjects.
These works complement our ‘Apocalypse’ series by Albrecht Dürer, an illustrated volume of ‘The Book of the Revelation of St John’, with its predictions of agony and turmoil on the day of Last Judgement.
Albrecht Dürer, Germany 1471-1528 / ‘The Apocalypse’ series c.1496-98, Latin edition, 1511 / Woodcut on laid paper / Purchased with the generous support of Mrs Selina Rivers, the Airey Family, Margaret Mittelheuser AM and Cathryn Mittelheuser AM, Josephine Ulrick and Win Schubert Diversity Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art
Heinrich Aldegrever ‘Hercules Slaying the Dragon Ladon’
During the fifteenth century, at a time when paper became more widely available, artists such as Lucas van Leyden and Heinrich Aldegrever transformed the craft of printmaking from secondary artisan status to a refined and widely recognised art form. Aldegrever was a follower and admirer of Dürer, whose style is evident in Aldegrever’s prints of biblical, mythological and allegorical themes. Italian and Netherlandish Renaissance art also influenced his work.
Hercules Slaying the Dragon Ladon (from ‘The Labours of Hercules’) 1550 depicts one of the most popular themes in Renaissance art; a cycle of stories deriving from a Greek epic poem composed by Peisander around 600BCE, ‘The Labours of Hercules’ describes the 12 tasks demanded of Hercules by the Mycenaean King, Eurystheus, as atonement for the slaying of his daughter, son and wife. The dragon, Ladon, was the guardian of the golden apples in the Garden of Hesperides, the stealing of which was set as the eleventh labour.
Because of the small scale of his prints, Aldegrever is known as one of the Kleinmeister (‘Little Masters’) — printmakers working primarily in engraving, who were active in the first half of the sixteenth century and specialised in small, finely detailed prints, some no larger than a postage stamp.
Lucas Van Leyden ‘The Last Supper’
Lucas Van Leyden ‘David in Prayer’
Lucas Van Leyden ‘The Temptation of Christ’
By the 1520s, the Netherlands came to be recognised for its printmakers, who had actively developed the art to a new level of sophistication, and van Leyden was foremost among these. The first printmaker to etch on copper plates, which allowed for greater freedom of draughtsmanship than the previous iron plates, van Leyden’s diversity and variation in line and the atmospheric modelling of light and shade were his work’s most notable qualities. While simple woodcut techniques had been in use since the mid 1400s for devotional images and emblem books (Dürer developed the technique to an unprecedented degree), a more technically complex and demanding technique of engraving developed in the later decades of the fifteenth century.
The tools and techniques of engraving were adapted from those used for incising armoury and metalwork. Known as intaglio processes, engraving and etching both employ a metal plate as the matrix; the image is incised into the plate by mechanical action and the use of a pointed metal tool (a burin) in the case of engraving, or through the mordant effects of acid for etching. The major point of departure from woodcut techniques is the ability of intaglio processes to produce tonal variation and chiaroscuro effects in lighting. The intricate detail and effects achieved by these methods resulted in the level of realism found in panel painting and altarpieces of the period.
Anthonie Waterloo ‘Landscape with Pan and Syrinx’
Jacob van Ruisdael ‘Cottage on the summit of a tree covered hill’
Anthonie Waterloo’s reputation as a landscape artist was based largely on his drawings and etchings, which had considerable influence on subsequent generations of artists, including the French Barbizon School of the mid-nineteenth century. Although Waterloo travelled widely, many of his landscapes were probably imagined in the studio and were strongly influenced by the work of landscapists like Jacob van Ruisdael. Landscape with Pan and Syrinx 1640–90 comes from a series of six landscapes depicting mythological scenes from Ovid’s ‘Metamorphoses’.
David Burnett is former Curator, International Art, QAGOMA
Jan Saenredam ‘The Expulsion from Eden’
Featured image detail: Lucas Van Leyden, The Netherlands 1494-1533 / The Temptation of Christ (also known as ‘The Temptation of Jesus in the Desert’) 1518 / Engraving on paper / 17.3 x 13.5 cm (irreg.) / Gift of Dr Morris Low through the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art Foundation 2016. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art
For Gerhard Richter, history, painting and photography are intimately linked, we therefore have listed five things that help understand one of the world’s leading and most influential living artists.
5 things to know about Gerhard Richter
Born in 1932, Gerhard Richter has been making art for as long as many of us have been alive. He was 12 years old when his city of birth, Dresden, was bombed by allied forces during World War Two. He and his mother were living in a rural town outside of Dresden at the time. When he returned to Dresden in 1951 to study at the Dresden Art Academy, more than five years after the end of the war, the city was still in ruins.
‘There were only piles of rubble to the left and right of what had been streets’. Every day we walked from the academy to the cafeteria through rubble, about two kilometres there and back’
Such events formed part of Richter’s early life and were to inform his art throughout his career. The two paintings, Uncle Rudi 1965 and Aunt Marianne 1965 are based on photographs from a family album that Richter took with him when he fled East Germany in 1961. They relate to his own family during the war years and their tragic history.
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Freedom can often require leaving something or someone behind. It comes at a price.
When Gerhard Richter left East Germany in March 1961 he had to do it covertly. He travelled as a tourist alone, first to Moscow and then to Leningrad. On the return the train stopped at West Berlin where Richter stashed additional suitcases he had brought with him, before returning to Dresden to collect his wife, Marianne Eufinger, known as ‘Ema’.
The borders between the Communist, German Democratic Republic and West Germany were being sealed — just months away from the erection of the Berlin Wall that was to divide the two Germanys for 28 years until its demolition in 1989. Trains and subways were still operating between the Soviet-occupied East and West Berlin making it the last remaining link to the free west.
Richter had a friend drive himself and Ema from Dresden to East Berlin where they boarded a train (without suitcases, which drew suspicion) for the western sector of Berlin where they registered as refugees. Between 1958 and 1961, 700,000 people fled East Germany for the West. Richter’s parents were never allowed to leave East Germany or to visit their son. They died in 1967 and 1968.
Richter was nearly thirty years old when he left East Germany. In Dusseldorf, where he studied and eventually taught, he began to number his works and reject almost everything he had done that was associated with his previous life. But your past never leaves you.
Richter has never been defined by a specific style and has used a variety of materials, techniques and methodologies during his career, like many young artists today. This represented a creative freedom for Richter who had spent more than a decade as a student and young apprentice in East Germany painting murals and making art within the narrow socialist confines of the German Democratic Republic. His academic training in Dresden did however, equip him with skills and technical facility that found expression later in still life paintings, portraits and landscapes.
The late writer, critic and essayist, John Berger once asked the question,
‘What served in place of the photograph; before the camera’s invention? The expected answer is the engraving, the drawing, the painting. The more revealing answer might be: memory’.
Photographs have been central to the art of Gerhard Richter. One of the few things he took with him to West Germany was a family album of photographs – some of which became the basis for later paintings. After arriving in West Germany, Richter began to systematically collect photographs, clippings from magazines and books and eventually took many thousands of his own photographs. This accumulation of photographic and reproduced images became the basis for his vast life-long project called Atlas.
Richter’s Atlas includes an extraordinary range of imagery, from harrowing images of the Holocaust to tender images of his children. It was created at a time before digital photography became so common place — when photographs were understood to be a trace of something or some time. Like footprints, fossils, markings on a tree — traces of what has been. Digital technology has changed photography from something we once looked at and reflected upon to something we Send. Once they were an index of memory, now we distribute them in their millions, and forget them.
Watch our time-lapse as we install the ATLAS compendium comprising some 400 panels personally selected by the artist from thousands of clippings, photographs and source images.
Gerhard Richter has stated that beauty is a ‘dangerous word’. He was thinking about how the Third Reich associated beauty with the notion of racial purity — which culminated in obscene evil and violence. He has also said that, ‘beauty is the opposite of destruction, disintegration and damage’. Today ‘beauty’ is a loaded term. It is often considered obsolete in relation to art. In some instances it is understood to be ‘discriminatory’. But the word is still used, often and sometimes carelessly. Beauty can be found in a song, a thankyou note from a friend, a reflection on still water. Beauty can still be dangerous and it often keeps company with sadness.
Richter finds beauty in nature — an exquisite orchid, the light on the side of his wife’s hair. He has also described his monochrome grey paintings as possessing beauty. Perhaps beauty is not something we can ‘possess’ but only recognise.
Geraldine Kirrihi Barlow, Curatorial Manager, International Art, QAGOMA introduces you to her favourite work in ‘The Life of Images’.
A common response by many thousands of people following the attacks on the World Trade Centre on September 11 2001 was incomprehension. The ‘reality’ of the situation was almost impossible to accept or understand. The event was immediately and constantly compared to a movie. The French theorist, Jean Baudrillard commented that the repeated broadcasts of the footage served ‘to multiply it to infinity and, at the same time, they are a diversion and a neutralization”—the more we see the events, the less comprehensible they become.’
Baudrillard was interested in the way that photographic media affect our perception of reality and the world. He believed that the overwhelming amount of imagery that we consume in the forms of television, film and video, computer games and the internet results in a ‘hyperreality’, a simulation of the real.
Gerhard Richter said that, ‘Photography has almost no reality; it is almost a hundred per cent picture. And painting always has reality: you can touch the paint; it has presence; but it always yields a picture – no matter whether good or bad. … I once took some small photographs and then smeared them with paint. That partly resolved the problem, and it’s really good – better than anything I could ever say on the subject’.
David Burnett is former Curator, International Art, QAGOMA
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‘Gerhard Richter: The Life of Images‘ was at Brisbane’s Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) from 14 October 2017 until 4 February 2018 and featured over 90 works from six decades of Richter’s career. Drawn from major museum and private collections, as well as Richter’s own personal archive, the exhibition provided a unique opportunity to view the diverse range of his exploration of painting.
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Gerhard Richter is one of the world’s leading and most influential living artists. Throughout his long career, he has responded to some of modern history’s pivotal events, among them World War Two, the horror of the Holocaust and the postwar division of Germany.
Watch our time-lapse as we install a new version of Richter’s monumental ongoing archival project ATLAS, selected by the artist and on loan from the Stadtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus in Munich. This compendium comprises of some 400 panels personally selected from thousands of clippings, photographs and source images.
Watch our time-lapse as we install the ATLAS compendium comprising some 400 panels personally selected by the artist from thousands of clippings, photographs and source images.
The extraordinary breadth of Richter’s visual and emotional reach — from intimate, personal images of family, to large, digitally generated abstract works, together with experimental variations of technique and approach, mark him as an artist who has revitalised and reinvigorated the role of painting in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. Richter’s is an artist who has both rejected and embraced tradition, while confirming painting’s mystery and durability as an art form.
My motivation was more a matter of wanting to create order — to keep track of things. All those boxes full of photographs and sketches weigh you down, because they have something unfinished, incomplete, about them.1Gerhard Richter
Creative bodies of work are often derived from fragments. Glimpses of a particular light, an overheard conversation, a rhythm of ambient sound, or a simple postcard can give rise to entire suites, symphonies, novels or other ongoing works of enduring significance. Similarly, notes, sketches, jottings — even the most inconsequential ephemera can catalyse ideas and directions for an artist’s work.
Gerhard Richter’s long and sustained career as a painter began at a time when photographic
reproductions in the daily press, illustrated journals and periodicals had become widely available and distributed, to the point of being referred to as a mass medium. As Benjamin Buchloh, who has written extensively on Richter’s work, has noted:
Having escaped from a country where advertising of any kind had been prohibited, where fashion photography (let alone soft- or hardcore pornography) was outlawed, and where images soliciting the desire for tourism would have been banned from the photographic public sphere of the Communist state, Richter could now, for the first time, endlessly pursue these images in abundance.2
Throughout the 1950s and 60s in Western Europe, North America and the United Kingdom, photography had become a commercial touchstone of the capitalist enterprise. While television was in its infancy, the illustrated press and magazines, such as Life, Stern and Der Spiegel, were the face of modernity and economic progress, a face Richter would have glimpsed only occasionally in the censorial atmosphere of what was then East Germany. The characteristic alliances of image and text, news and advertising, commodity and celebrity, in the press and in magazines, were the agents for the particular ideological, commercial and political structure of life in the West — what art historian John J Curley has described as ‘an explicit instrument of political power’.3
Richter’s ongoing, encyclopaedic and partially taxonomical project known as ATLAS now numbers more than 800 panels. It began as a collection, or perhaps more an accumulation of press cuttings, illustrations from magazines and books, and family photographs. From 1969, Richter systematically collated his collection of fragments onto standardised sheets of card, but this material was already playing a central role in his work from the early 1960s. The first panels have the character of a ‘scrapbook’, overlayed with the rigid grid of order that became the standard format for the entire opus. ‘Family album’ snapshots — the foundation images of ATLAS — are pasted alongside cuttings from newspapers and magazines. By the late 1960s and early 1970s, Richter’s own photographs appear more regularly, reflecting the increasing accessibility and availability of cameras and photography for personal means. Particular panels are less concerned with photography than they are with ‘appearances’ — flames, painted surfaces, swirling paint or colour samples. There are sheets of correlations and correspondences, such as those between clouds, sea and sky. Extensive serial sequences of landscapes appear frequently alongside aerial views of cities, mountains, flowers and forests. While drawings, sketches and collages appear throughout, photography is the central focus and spine of ATLAS.
Most of us are familiar with images as part of a continuum, whether they are family photos in an album (or perhaps a digital archive now) or the continuous and largely superfluous flow of media images we encounter on a daily basis. When isolated from that continuum, however, or placed into a specific order and arrangement as Richter has done, these images become strangely present again; their place in the flow is arrested. It is perhaps this characteristic that is most salient in ATLAS.
The imposition of order on the archival work is consistent with Richter’s decision in 1962–63, at the age of 30, to begin sequentially numbering his paintings and hence, the development of a catalogue raisonné that now contains over 2000 works. Some of the earliest works in the Gallery’s exhibition are derived directly from illustrations, cuttings and photographs from a few of the first panels produced between 1962 and 1964. A grid of pencil lines can be seen on several images, which have been clipped or torn from magazines and newspapers, indicating Richter’s then methodology of manually enlarging the image onto canvas. He later used an ‘episcope’, a kind of opaque projector, to bypass this process.
The overlay of order, chronology and sequence suggests a narrative intent, but that is not the intention behind it. The fusion of personal memory and biography, ATLAS is a broad incidental history of public events, specific thoughts, ideas and propositions that coexist, return and are reprised. It would be mayhem but for the stabilising convention of the grid. Helmut Friedel, former director of the Stadtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus, has compared ATLAS to a text in the sense that, ‘a sentence consists of words, words of syllables and syllables of letters’.4
ATLAS is simultaneously linear and cyclic, ordered and labyrinthine, open to infinite interpretation and analysis — a kind of mnemonic alliteration. We find images collected or taken in the 1970s returned to in the 1980s. ATLAS’s Various Motifs (445), 1978, for example, includes a photograph of Richter’s daughter, Betty, turning away from the camera. The photograph was the basis for one of Richter’s best-known painted works, which he completed ten years later.5 Similarly, harrowing scenes from concentration camps are revisited in 1997–98, almost preposterously, as potential images for inclusion in a commissioned work for the atrium at the entrance of Berlin’s Reichstag (parliament) building. The picture of Richter’s wife, Sabine, with their son, Moritz, could be any tender image of a mother and child; while the dark, blurred images of Nazi death camps find echoes in more recent images of genocide, forced diaspora and refugee settlements. Unmoored, the images are fugitive and mutable.
ATLAS has been exhibited numerous times, beginning in 1972, each time a different iteration and no two the same. Munich’s Lenbachhaus acquired the work in 1996 — the original sheets are now too fragile for travel or loan. Richter has created ATLASoverview using the plates of a four-volume book published by the Lenbachhaus. Comprising some 400 panels personally selected by the artist, ATLAS overview is a compressed summary of this vast archive. As with Richter’s practice of creating editioned versions of his works, this is considered an artwork in its own right.
Like the project itself, a view of ATLAS can only ever be partial. Its totality is too vast to be experienced singularly. Only in publication does it approach the status of a single entity, albeit a page at a time. Like a life, ATLAS is disjointed, interrupted and incomplete — standing apart from Richter’s painting oeuvre, this intricate web of association, return and recall is a significant project of memorialisation at a time when the meaning of images has changed so profoundly.
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Endnotes 1 ‘Interview with Stefan Koldehoff, 1999’, in Dietmar Elger and Hans Ulrich Obrist (eds), Gerhard Richter: Text. Writings, Interviews and Letters 1961–2007, Thames and Hudson, London, 2009, p.350. 2 Benjamin HD Buchloh, ‘Atlas: The anomic archive’, October, vol.88, Spring, 1999, p.140. 3 John J Curley, A Conspiracy of Images: Andy Warhol, Gerhard Richter and the Art of the Cold War, Yale University, New Haven and London, 2013, p.136. 4 Helmut Friedel, Sumi Hayashi, Gerhard Richter: ATLAS [exhibition catalogue], Kawamura Memorial Museum of Art, Sakura, Japan, 2001, p.26. 5 Later still is the edition work in the Gallery’s exhibition — Betty, 1991 Editions (CR 75).
David Burnett is Curator, International Art, QAGOMA
Feature image detail: Gerhard Richter Atlas overview 1962-ongoing
DAY IN DAY OUT (second version) 1991 by Aleks Danko has recently been installed in the reimagining of the Australian collection at the Queensland Art Gallery. This important and enduringly captivating work is for the first time, given a place in a ‘permanent hang’ of the Australian collection in a context which is both diverse and relevant. It has been included previously in various iterations and thematic displays, but its inclusion in the new perspective for the collection is both timely and as topical as ever as Australia confronts increasingly shrill debates about home affordability, border security and social division. The power of Danko’s work is in its understated, unadorned directness in addressing issues that we all share. This blog is an extract from David Burnett’s essay published in Lynne Seear and Julie Ewington (eds). Brought to Light: Australian Art 1850-1965, Queensland Art Gallery, 1998.
It was, in fact, the installation’s title that had immediate resonance for me. My mother (and I suspect many others) had used this very phrase often when I was child. I recalled that it was after she took on jobs, first as a cleaner in a nearby motel, and then later as a cook at a nursing home, that this chant-like phrase entered our domestic realm. I remember the pattern of life changing with both parents working. There were adjustments to new routines and schedules for myself, my brother and my sister. Evening meals moved from the kitchen table to the lounge room, in front of the television to catch Flipper or Bellbird before the news at seven. ‘Day in, day out’ was a phrase I came to associate with my mother’s tiredness and seemingly endless chores — cooking, lunch-making, washing, cleaning and ironing — which she performed at times she never seemed to before. I grew to resent this routine as it came to dominate our lives. For me, it was through this portal of memory that Danko’s installation of little houses with their long shadows took on particular significance, and prompted a kind of gentle, backyard melancholy.
DAY IN DAY OUT (second version) incorporates a revolving theatrical light – an electronic sun which introduces and implies the element of time in the work. It has an effect similar to time-lapse photography, where the movement of clouds, light and atmosphere is compressed into minutes and seconds. The diurnal cycle defined in this work is measured by a clock that spins rather than ticks. It is mechanical time, factory time, ‘no-time-to-dream’ time — a time that is alienated from experience, indifferent, relentless — day in, day out.
Aleks Danko’s career spans a defining period of Australia’s recent history.1 His childhood was spent in suburban Edwardstown in Adelaide. In the early 1970s, he studied sculpture at the South Australian School of Art. Feminism and gender politics, the anti-uranium and conservation movements; the dismissal of the Whitlam Labor government; the volatile passage of the Hawke and Keating administrations; and, more recently, John Howard’s ‘relaxed and comfortable’ euphemism of ambient anxiety and fear, have provided the background noise for Danko’s critical aesthetic strategies. From an era of reformist hope and optimism to one of nervous, timid quiescence, his art has engaged with debates through a mordant wit and irony, simultaneously disarming and activating issues.
From the early 1970s, Danko’s work embraced a neo-dada, conceptual dimension, but with its roots in the local. His work engaged with Conceptual and Post-object art to the extent that it critiqued the formalist, institutional aesthetic of the previous generation. It did not follow, for example, the more austere forms of Conceptualism, where texts and photographic documentation became the residual ghosts of ideas. The arrangement of DAY IN DAY OUT (second version) may reference the formalist grid of Modernism, however it does not assume the mute objectivity which characterised the minimalist aesthetic of artists such as Donald Judd or Carl Andre. Danko’s language of irony, Duchampian play and metaphor keeps the work circulating in an orbit of immanent possibilities and potential meanings. As a strategy, irony is open-ended — it has no end-game. It plays itself out by creating small ruptures in the fabric of language. It irritates, but never nullifies meaning, by having an alternative always at hand. It forces us to remain vigilant to the fact that reality is essentially provisional, equivocal and contestable.
DAY IN DAY OUT (second version) confounds notions of scale and time, the ordinary and the monumental. Its formality is deftly undermined by its installation at floor level — no enhancement, pedestal or plinth — just anonymous little houses resting on the indifferent floor and, by inference, the earth. While the work is composed of small, identical houses, it is less about ‘home’ than it is about time and a sense of alienation. The spaces between these houses are pregnant with the disconnectedness that characterises the Australian suburb. The irony of the work is amplified when we know that the multiple dwellings are cast from a house-shaped cake-tin mould. This dinky piece of domestic kitsch becomes the template for several of Danko’s important works and projects — works that take the idea of home into a wider political and philosophical arena. Its childlike facade is both cute and menacing. The suburban house on the quarter-acre block has traditionally been the primary foil against alienation and ‘not-at-home-ness’ for non-Indigenous Australians. It is here that we seek refuge and security.
To drive into, or out of, any major city in Australia by freeway is to traverse the zones of housing that have come to define everyday life in Australia. The older suburbs of humble red brick bungalows and postwar weatherboard cottages contrast sharply with the new wave of eave-less, double storey ‘McMansions’ squatting on freshly cleared plots ‘landscaped’ with pine bark and palms. Our coastal hugging population’s love affair with home ownership has been a social, political and economic indicator for decades. Australia’s boom and bust cycle is driven as much by the movement and relocation of transient populations as it is by the buying and selling of real estate. In urban Australia in particular, the notion of home as a dwelling, an asset, as ‘bricks and mortar’, tends to supplant the idea of home as a place of belonging. ‘Being at home’ for white Australia is first and foremost about a sense of security underpinned by ownership, before it is about a sense of shared spirit of belonging. Highly geared mortgages keep the dream in place, but out of reach, for longer, while we work ever-increasing hours to close the gap between aspiration and acquisition.
For some artists and writers, however, suburbia has been a site for nostalgia, fondly remembered childhood events, and the source of Dame Edna’s satire. Tim Winton’s vignettes of seaside country towns or David Malouf’s evocations of Brisbane in the 1950s are sometimes haunting in their imaginative descriptions and ability to extract mystery from the achingly familiar. This represents the duality and the ambivalence that filters the experience of Australian suburbia. Australian films and television soap dramas, such as Neighbours ,have created a particular image of the suburbs that can be seen as both reflection and artifice. The summer heat and ennui of Porpoise Spit in Muriel’s Wedding (1994) or the folksy heroism and shed humour of The Castle (1997) are further examples of how we reflect on our status as largely suburban dwellers.
The meaning of suburbia is constantly being negotiated. It swings from the celebratory image of backyard barbecues and pools to outlying badlands of unemployment, disadvantage and violence.
Danko has attributed a statement to his father which perfectly encapsulates the ongoing ambiguity of prevailing attitudes to suburbia: ‘As you know, we are pensioners, day in day out, twenty-four hours closer to death’. The artist cites the phrase as an example of Russian black humour — a dark and self-deprecating humour — it can raise a smile and a shudder in the same instant. It is also one that finds affiliation in the more sardonic and mocking strains of Australian humour. It is a statement of both resignation and affirmation. It can be taken as a colloquial embrace of Henry David Thoreau’s statement, ‘The mass of men live lives of quiet desperation’, and equally as a matter-of-fact description of life in which one is still free to love one’s wife, pat the dog and see the sun come up tomorrow.
For Aleks Danko’s father, the establishment of a ‘home’ in Adelaide in the 1950s most probably represented the pinnacle of hard work and security, as it was for many immigrants at the time. Emigration, whether by choice or necessity, was a central phenomenon of the twentieth century. Fundamental to it was the idea of loss — the loss of home as the centre of one’s world, where one is connected by blood to others, and to history by experience. The displacement of the migrant is never fully resolved. The experience of arriving and living among strangers creates conditions in which fragments, memories and longings are constantly being reconfigured in an effort to create a semblance of that which is lost.
DAY IN DAY OUT (second version) is a work whose meaning oscillates and like much of Danko’s work, is constantly slipping between language and image, past and present, metaphor and real life. Irony, paradox and humour are his companions and combatants in a society where history is abbreviated into ‘mini-series’ and human relations are replaced with the abberation of ‘reality television’– where short-term memory and long-term credit delivers us from responsibility – a society insensible to contradiction — where opinion polls and statistics are the pretence for democratic choice. Where fear is the new currency.
This work retains its power to provoke, it remains a potent indice of the ambiguous ‘values’ and politics of a strangely retro climate of social division, distrust and conservatism, masquerading as a new prosperity. On a good day, we might see rows of cosy homes, secure in their routine constancy, untroubled by maverick otherness, rising interest rates or foreign threats. On a bad day . . . why can I not help thinking that it looks like a mordant monument to a phenomenon that once represented a new life, a tiled roof utopia for many who were driven from their countries of birth by war, famine and internecine strife? The modest home that Danko’s parents established in the 1950s in the suburbs of Adelaide — optimistic, proud and comfortable — is difficult to identify in their son’s tableau of terminal emptiness.
There is no argument that a majority of Australians enjoy a standard of living that rates among the highest in the world. For that majority, this life of the workplace, the home, the mortgage, sunny leisure and lifestyle channels, celebrity gossip and next weekend’s barbecue or backyard makeover, is enough to keep us in an attenuated state of distraction.
What time is it in suburbia?
David Burnett is former Curator, International Art, QAGOMA
Endnote 1 Aleks Danko was born in 1950 to Ukranian parents who fled Stalin’s paranoid and oppressive regime of collectivisation. They married in Germany and joined the first of successive waves of dispossessed refugees, immigrating to Australia and arriving in Adelaide in 1949.
Extract from Lynne Seear and Julie Ewington (eds). Brought to Light: Australian Art 1850-1965, Queensland Art Gallery, 1998
As exhibitions, collection priorities, directors, and curators are constantly changing, in an art gallery it is difficult sometimes to decide what should remain on more-or-less ‘permanent’ display. One of the Gallery’s most popular works with visitors is Blandford Fletcher’s painting Evicted, depicting a mother and daughter and their nosey neighbours. Whenever taken off display, it’s only a matter of weeks before comments start to appear and gallery staff are regularly questioned as to the painting’s whereabouts.
Paintings such as Evicted fell out of favour in the early years of the twentieth century. With the passing of Queen Victoria in 1901 and the emerging prosperity and relative peace of the Edwardian era, images of childhood, poverty, old age and religious piety suddenly seemed out of step and were seen as sentimental and overly-laden with emotion. We should remember however that the Victorian era was an age of storytelling in both words and pictures.
Children’s books, the novel and the illustrated periodicals of the time were basically what films, television and magazines are to the current age. Artists and writers appealed directly and emotively to their audiences through novels, serialised periodical stories, plays, paintings and illustrations. Novels and paintings provided models of behaviour – both good and bad. Moralistic intent was often at the heart of artistic endeavour.
Charles Dickens is widely acknowledged as a master of the realist novel form – perfectly suited to portraying the new industrialised, teeming urban masses where inequality, disease, class antagonism and all manner of moral evil provided unprecedented narrative drama for the writer.
The plight of the woman and her daughter in the painting is not explicitly connected to the industrial age but the narrative potential of the work is open-ended enough for a viewer to interpret, surmise and guess at the reasons for the eviction of this small family.
An unprecedented increase in population in Britain during Queen Victoria’s reign was concurrent with industrialisation and urbanisation. Overcrowding of towns and cities resulted in critical shortages of housing for anyone unfortunate enough to be unemployed or disenfranchised of a family life. For a woman to be widowed or worse, unmarried with a child, was at the time tantamount to a life of destitution.
By the time Fletcher painted this work, very few children were still working in factories or coal mines as they had in the early nineteenth-century although many women still laboured as domestic servants in upper middle-class homes. A series of reforms and acts from the 1870s and 80s had gradually improved the conditions for women to divorce, gain work and obtain custody of children. By the end of the nineteenth century it was increasingly recognised that children needed the protection of a safe family environment. A flourishing industry in children’s publications, toys and reforms in the schooling of children reflected this changing perception of childhood in society.
Sentimentality in Victorian genre painting came to be maligned by critics by the end of the nineteenth century and indeed many artists traded on clichés and trite appeal to the viewer’s emotions. However, many Victorian subjects presented contemporary issues that ran parallel with people’s lives – narratives that were recognisable and invited viewers to participate in them – a phenomenon that is now catered to through television soap-operas.
Paintings such as Fletcher’s Evicted provided Victorian viewers with a reflection of their world and immediate past. That they still appeal to contemporary audiences is testimony to their enduring attraction as pictorial expressions of human emotions.
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To celebrate the 120 years of the Queensland Art Gallery, we present an exhibition of the state collection’s earliest works. Not only is the exhibition an opportunity to learn about the Collection and about this slice of Queensland’s cultural history, but also it has resulted in the conservation of many of our oldest works, preserving them for the enjoyment of future generations. Here, we elaborate on the ‘humble beginnings’ of what is now a collection of more than 16 000 works.
Thirty-four years behind the colony of Victoria, and a decade on from New South Wales, the establishment of the Queensland National Art Gallery in Brisbane was an event of significance when it opened in March 1895. While earlier moves had been initiated by individuals and art societies as early as 1883 (Isaac Walter Jenner), the Queensland Governor, Sir Anthony Musgrave (1884) and the Queensland Art Society (founded in 1887), real progress was made by the end of 1894 when Richard Godfrey Rivers, graduate of the Slade School, London, and then President of the Queensland Art Society and Art Master at the Technical College, proposed in September of that year that a group of engravings and a bequest to the Government of 11 Netherlandish and Italian paintings — gifts from pastoralist and Legislative Councillor Thomas Lodge Murray-Prior — might form the basis of a state gallery, together with a loan collection in the possession of certain individuals in the colony.
Rivers was informed that an expenditure of £20 would be granted to mount and frame a selection of the engravings, and that a room in the Parliament building would be made available on weekdays only as a temporary gallery space, with admittance by order of the Speaker. This complicated and inconvenient arrangement which limited access for working people met with resistance and criticism from the public. In response, Rivers persuaded Brisbane’s mayor, Alderman Robert Fraser, to provide a room in the Town Hall that could be fitted out appropriately to accommodate the fledgling collection.
The Governor of Queensland at the time, Sir Henry Wylie Norman, officially opened the Queensland National Art Gallery on 29 March 1895, with a Board of Trustees under the chairmanship of Sir Samuel Griffith, Chief Justice of Queensland, with Godfrey Rivers as Honorary Curator. In the spirit of philanthropy that accompanied the occasion, gifts of works by Godfrey Rivers (Woolshed, New South Wales 1890), Oscar Fristrom (Duramboi 1893) and Isaac Walter Jenner (Cape Chudleigh, Coast of Labrador 1893, re‑worked 1895), added to the ‘humble beginning’ of the Collection. An estimated 20 000 people took the opportunity to view the collected paintings, prints, decorative arts and sculptures within the first 15 months of their display, at a time when the population of Brisbane was less than 60 000.1
One of the objectives of the Queensland National Art Gallery — and an aim in keeping with many nineteenth-century public galleries, both in Australia and overseas — was to educate and elevate public taste. The inclusion of painted copies of works by Raphael and Botticelli, and engravings after Rubens and Poussin, indicated the intention on the part of Rivers as curator to present works that reflected the idealised traditions of Renaissance art and taste. An article in the Queenslander of 13 April 1895 opened with the observation that the Gallery’s Collection, ‘bids fair to become a favourite Saturday afternoon resort for our citizens’.2 The article was, however, accompanied by an illustration by Gasking, the newspaper’s cartoonist, depicting a classically attired woman standing in a decorative and decidedly unpopulated portal of an imagined gallery space. She gazes at the city’s crowds thronging to buy lottery tickets, oblivious to the higher calling on offer.
While funds for the purchase of works were limited, a number of large pictures by British artists — of subjects that reflected the Victorian taste and fashion of the time — were secured in the first years of the Gallery’s establishment. For 300 guineas, Blandford Fletcher’s Evicted 1887 was our first purchase, from the Hobart International Exhibition of 1895. The painting, which had been exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1887 and at the Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893, presents a Dickensian narrative of hardship in the wake of industrialisation. Other works with popular Victorian themes include the history painting of Elizabeth Woodville, widow of EdwardIV, parting with her younger son, the Duke of York when Elizabeth learnedthat the Prince of Wales had fallen into the power of his uncle, the Duke ofGloucester 1893; the Shakespearean vignette of Hamlet – the churchyardscene 1902 by Frank Cadogan Cowper; and Frederic Goodall’s contemporised religious subject, The Holy Mother 1875.
While ‘The Founding Years’ exhibition, presented in QAG’s Gallery 14 from 28 March to 14 June 2015, does not attempt to emulate the founding collection, it does, however, include many of the works that constituted it. Significant works from the Murray-Prior bequest are also available for viewing in the newly installed international and Asian collections in QAG’s Philip Bacon Galleries (7, 8 and 9). Presenting the exhibition has also prompted significant conservation treatment of works that have been in the Collection since the early 1900s. The frames for Hamilton MacCallum’s Sunday afternoon parade 1896 and Giacomo Maes’s undated View in the Campagna, Rome have been cleaned and re-gilded, while the conservation and stabilisation of works on paper, such as the large watercolour The legitimate drama c.1880–93 by Thomas W Couldery, has enabled these works to be displayed in an appropriate context after many years in storage.
Endnotes 1 Bettina MacAuley, ‘A humble beginning for Queensland’s National Art Gallery’, Brisbane History Group, Papers no.3, 1985, p.115. 2 ‘New pictures at the National Gallery’, Queenslander, 13 April 1895
We acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the land on which the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art stands and recognise the creative contribution First Australians make to the art and culture of this country.