Unfinished Business: The Art of Gordon Bennett


The art and legacy of Gordon Bennett (1955–2014), one of Australia’s most influential contemporary artists, will be on show at the Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) from 7 November 2020 to 21 March 2021. ‘Unfinished Business: The Art of Gordon Bennett’ celebrates the Queensland-based artist’s globally recognised contribution to contemporary art.

Gordon Bennett , Australia 1955-2014 / Untitled (Self-portrait 3a) 1994 / Watercolour on paper / 27 x 19.5cm / Collection: The Estate of Gordon Bennett / © The Estate of Gordon Bennett

The exhibition showcases Bennett’s key series in depth, his most important and admired works, and includes many works which have rarely if ever been exhibited. Bennett voraciously consumed art history, current affairs, rap music and fiction, and processed it all into an unflinching critique of how identities are constituted and how history shapes individual and shared cultural conditions.

RELATED: The art of Gordon Bennett

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Gordon Bennett, Australia 1955-2014 / Diptych 1987 / Oil on canvas, belt, corrugated iron and grass clippings / 251 x 358.5 cm / Private Collection / © The Estate of Gordon Bennett
Gordon Bennett, Australia 1955-2014 / Possession Island 1991 / Oil and synthetic polymer paint on canvas / Two parts: 162 x 260cm (overall) / Purchased with funds from the Foundation for the Historic Houses Trust, Museum of Sydney Appeal, 2007 / Collection: Museum of Sydney, Sydney Living Museums / © The Estate of Gordon Bennett

200 artworks ranging from installation and sculptural assemblage to painting, drawing, video and ceramics, drawn from private and public collections, as well as the artist’s estate, is the first major survey of the artist’s work in over a decade.

Born and raised as a European Australian in the regional town of Monto, central Queensland, Bennett grew up knowing his father was a migrant of Anglo-Celtic descent, however it wasn’t until he was a young teenager when he learnt his mother was Indigenous and that she had spent her childhood in the Cherbourg Aboriginal mission before training as a domestic helper. This revelation of a dual identity was a life-changing event for Bennett, especially in the context of 1960s Australia, a decade in which the country grappled with its history, not least in finally giving its original inhabitants the right to vote and be recognised in the national census.

Bennett commenced full-time study at Brisbane’s Queensland College of Art at the age of 30. From that time on he drew on contemporary postcolonial theory to explore the workings of society, and to reflect on racial violence and social and cultural inequities he observed at home and internationally, and their ramifications for individual and collective identity.

‘Unfinished Business’ celebrates Bennett as an artist of great passion and sensitivity whose prolific body of work continues to encourage audiences to question mainstream historical accounts, established fields of knowledge, and the ways we think about the world including Australia’s colonial past and post-colonial present.

Gordon Bennett , Australia 1955-2014 / After Basquiat 1993 / Watercolour on postcard paper / 14.7 x 10.5cm / Collection: The Estate of Gordon Bennett / © The Estate of Gordon Bennett
Gordon Bennett , Australia 1955-2014 / Notes to Basquiat (Jackson Pollock and His Other) 2001 / Synthetic polymer paint on linen / 2 panels: 152 x 152 cm each, 152 x 304 cm (overall) / Private Collection, Adelaide / © The Estate of Gordon Bennett

Highlights of the exhibition include Bennett’s early compositions, installations, the welt and mirror series, and paintings and drawings driven by Bennett’s fascination with and perceived shared experience with the African-American artist Jean-Michel Basquiat. Bennett’s late works seek understanding around sovereignty, citizenship and how to ensure multiple perspectives exist together truthfully. Many of the cultural and social divides his works speak to remain unchanged today. Drawing is also a major focus of the exhibition, with more than 100 working and finished compositions that reflect the artist’s unique visual language.

‘Unfinished Business: The Art of Gordon Bennett’ was in the Marica Sourris and James C. Sourris AM Galleries (3.3 and 3.4), Gallery of Modern Art from 7 November 2020 until 21 March 2021.

Gordon Bennett , Australia 1955-2014 / Home décor (After M Preston) no.25 2013 / Synthetic polymer paint on linen / 182.5 x 152cm / Collection: The Estate of Gordon Bennett / © The Estate of Gordon Bennett

The publication

At 200 pages and with more than 120 colour illustrations, Unfinished Business: The Art of Gordon Bennett includes works created from the 1980s to 2014 sourced from studio, public and private collections, including early installation works; Bennett’s ‘history’ paintings; mirror paintings, De Stijl works; his ‘Home décor’ series; ‘Notes to Basquiat’ works; abstract ‘Stripe’ paintings; and late works showing renewed engagement with political contexts. Pages from the artist’s personal notebooks, as well as archival photographs provided by the Gordon Bennett Estate, provide intimate insight into how the artist worked. The publication has been sponsored by the Gordon Darling Foundation.

Gordon Bennett, Australia 1955-2014 / The Coming of the Light 1987 / Synthetic polymer paint on canvas / Two parts: 152 x 137cm (each); 152 x 274cm (overall) / Gift of Leanne and Caitlin Bennett in memory of and admiration for Gordon Bennett 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 / © The Estate of Gordon Bennett

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Acknowledgment of Country
The Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA) acknowledges the traditional custodians of the land upon which the Gallery stands in Brisbane. We pay respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander elders past and present and, in the spirit of reconciliation, acknowledge the immense creative contribution Indigenous people make to the art and culture of this country.

It is customary in many Indigenous communities not to mention the name or reproduce photographs of the deceased. All such mentions and photographs are with permission, however, care and discretion should be exercised.

Featured image detail: Gordon Bennett Notes to Basquiat (Jackson Pollock and His Other) 2001

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