Whilst modernist architecture made its way to Australia through various routes, only one architect fully embodied the Bauhaus spirit that united art, architecture and design: Harry Seidler. With a significant collection of art and design of his own, and an impressive list of public commissions from artists including Alexander Calder, Frank Stella and Sol LeWitt, Seidler’s cultural contributions went beyond the influential buildings that he left behind. The tenth feature on ILEANA will be in two parts, looking at the Seidlers’ engagement with contemporary art in private (this week), and in public (next week).
ILEANA – Contemporary Art in Australia
Being the home to one of Jackson Pollock’s masterpieces, it is easy to forget about the two great paintings by his wife, Lee Krasner, in Australian collections. Although there are only two canvasses, they each symbolise a different milestone in the artist’s career and are important examples in their own right. This week I'll be discussing Krasner's 'Cool White' and 'Combat' from the NGV and the NGA.
Although Australian-Chinese political relations are currently tense, Australia has a long history of collecting and exhibiting contemporary Chinese artists. The exhibition ‘Mao Goes Pop: China Post 1989’ at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney in 1993 was one of the first major exhibitions of the influential group of ’85 New Wave artists outside of China, and through the Asia-Pacific Triennale, Chinese artists have been invited to show their work here since 1993. Moreover, Australia is home to one of the largest private colletions of contemporary Chinese art: Judith Neilson’s White Rabbit Gallery in Sydney. It is therefore no shock that several early and important Zhang Xiaogang works are housed in Australia's institutional collections.
There aren’t many Gerhard Richter paintings in Australian collections (five in total, spread out between the museums in Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra and Adelaide), but they are all of great quality. Moreover, they perfectly capture the various stages of Richter’s original engagement with colourful abstract painting from the late 1970s through to the 1990s - which is what I'll be looking at this week.
With works spanning from her early and seminal Untitled Film Stills to her more recent society portraits, Cindy Sherman is another artist who is exceptionally well-represented in Australian collections. Between the public collections in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Canberra, Australia is home to 18 of her works, including important historical pieces such as Untitled Film Still #3 and Untitled #92 from the Centerfolds series, and has hosted two major exhibitions of her work.
As the global financial markets have entered another financial crisis, Andreas Gursky’s series of stock exchanges have once again become highly relevant symbols of our globalised world. This week I will be looking at two of the works from this series that are housed in Australia: ‘Chicago Mercantile Exchange’ (1997) and ‘New York Mercantile Exchange’ (1999), as well as what was once the largest collection of Gursky’s stock exchange photographs in public or private hands, owned by an Australian collector.
Martha Rosler might not be a household name in Australia, but is a highly influential figure in feminist and political art history. Born in Brooklyn and educated in California, her work examines the power structures that inform representation and commodification, particularly of the female body. Her videos and photo-montages in the public collections in Australia give a good insight into some of her best-known works, and indeed into the critical artistic practices that emerged in the United States in the 1960s and 70s.
With only four works in Australian museum collections (all in the collection of the Art Gallery of New South Wales, and all donated by John Kaldor), Richard Prince is not exactly well-represented in Australia. However, one of those four works happens to be very important, and that's what I'll be looking at this week: Untitled (Cowboy) from 1980-89. Executed on a monumental scale, the nearly 3 meter wide photograph is amongst the largest, if not the largest, of the artist’s Cowboy photographs from the 1980s. Prince also produced a smaller edition of two prints that are half the size of the work at the AGNSW, one of which resides in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and the other one was the first photograph to ever break the $1 million price threshold when it came up at auction back in 2005. The image was furthermore included in the Time Magazine list of Most Influential Images of All Time, cementing its position in popular culture as well as art history.
With works in every major museum collection and many private collections across the continent, Bridget Riley was an obvious candidate to start this series of articles dedicated to exploring international contemporary art in Australia. The aim, to narrate recent art-history from the perspective of works in Australian collections, is ideally suited to Riley, who has an equal amount of canvasses in the Tate Collection as in Australian collections.
When I first visited Australia, it struck me how lively the local art scene is compared to most other countries. With a large number of institutional and commercial exhibition spaces, art magazines with critical discourse, biennales, art fairs and private collections, the Australian contemporary art scene is thriving. What also struck me after doing a bit of research was how many historically important works there were in Australian collections.