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.
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.
Fiona Hall ‘Australian set’ 1998–99 and ‘Sri Lankan set’ 1999 (from ‘Paradisus Terrestris’ series)
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.
Tacita Dean ‘Chalk Fall’ 2018
Olafur Eliasson ‘Riverbed’ 2014
Featured image: Fiona Hall Australian set (from ‘Paradisus Terrestris Entitled’ series) 1998–99