Tim Maguire

Untitled (20U62), 2000-19

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Explore Sydney Contemporary

Tim Maguire - Slit (Fontana)

Tim Maguire

(Australian, b. 1958)

Untitled (2000U62), 2000-2019
signed, titled and dated 2000 on the reverse
oil on canvas
45.5 by 55.5 cm.

The artist

AUD $ 9,500

Payment over 10 months with Art Money available

March – April 2022

ILEANA is delighted to announce Tim Maguire’s first solo exhibition in Queensland, which is also the first exhibition of the artist’s early paintings. Lines of Inquiry will include important series such as the Horizon paintings, the Tank paintings, an early Flower painting and the Fontana series.

Key Points

  • Tim Maguire’s Fontana paintings were made in dialogue with his better-known early flower paintings
  • Mostly painted in Europe, this key series of his early oeuvre is relatively unknown, but an important cornerstone of his practice
  • The works are well-priced considering their importance and the price-levels of his large-scale flower paintings
  • Tim Maguire is one of Australia’s most acclaimed contemporary artists, with works in all of the country’s major institutions

In Context

Tim Maguire’s series of paintings inspired by 1960s Spatialist works by Lucio Fontana are relatively unknown in Australia. Here, he is mostly celebrated for his impressive blown-up reproductions of 17th century still lifes, executed with the technically complex colour separation method. The Fontana paintings are decidedly European – and not only because of their ‘subject’. The works were mostly painted in France, where the artist has a second studio, but more importantly, they display a theoretical engagement with the medium of painting that has never found the same level of appreciation in Australia as it did in Europe and the United States.

This extraordinary body of work has the rare quality of being simultaneously “abundantly simple and maddeningly complex”, a phrase used by the late John Baldessari to describe his own practice, and one that seems particularly relevant to Tim Maguire’s work. At first sight, Maguire’s slit paintings could easily be mistaken for Lucio Fontana’s canvasses – and they were in fact mistaken as such by Italian customs officials, when one of the paintings was confiscated on grounds of illegal export of cultural heritage. The small scale, monochromatic canvasses, with Fontana’s iconic tagli (cuts) and buchi (holes) are easy to recognise. Where the ruptured canvas protrudes towards the viewer, a subtle shadow is cast next to it, whilst the opposite side of the slit reveals a subtle reflection of light. But that is where the abundant simplicity ends, as the viewer soon realises that the paintings are not by Fontana, and more surprisingly, that there are no cuts, no shadows, no highlights. What seemed so obvious at first now reveals itself as illusionary depth on a flat surface.

“To some extent I conceived the Slit paintings to frame more effectively the proposition I was making, the play between illusionism and the materiality of the painted surface.”

– Tim Maguire

Lucio Fontana in his studio, 1960s

This is where the complexity of the paintings starts. What does it mean to flatten Fontana’s three-dimensional canvasses? After all, Maguire does not appropriate the Italian maestro’s own technique – slashing the canvas would have been much quicker  than painstakingly creating the illusion of three-dimensional depth. Although appropriation certainly had become a hallmark of 90s postmodern painting, there is more at stake here. Lucio Fontana’s paintings were so radical precisely because he treated the flat canvas as a three-dimensional object; he wanted his art not to be a window to an imaginary world but to be physically part of our three-dimensional reality. Maguire’s rendering of this radical breakthrough back into a flat illusionistic space should not be seen as a parody, but as a reflection on how contemporary image culture has impacted our experience of these works. Lucio Fontana’s paintings are so iconic that even when their whole purpose is undermined, they still work; even when rendered completely flat, the cuts are still symbolic for Fontana’s radical gesture.

“I was always interested in the way Fontana took a painting and asserted its identity as an object. By cutting through the canvas he made its three-dimensionality clear, and, literally and metaphorically, destroyed the field in which illusion could be created. His was an aggressive anti-illusionistic gesture. Now we like to think we have a more sophisticated idea about painting, but the tendency certainly remains whereby flat painted surfaces are seen as windows onto some other world. My Slit paintings translated the concrete object into something illusionistic again. They were puns, ultimately rather literary by my standards, but they quite nearly summarised ideas which informed all my other work.”

– Tim Maguire

Tim Maguire was not the only artist who was interested in this flattening of the surface. In similar vein, Glenn Brown had painted copies of thickly impastoed paintings by Frank Auerbach and Karel Appel; Andreas Gursky produced blown-up photographs of textural details in Vincent Van Gogh and John Constable paintings; and Gerhard Richter painted flattened copies of his own gestural canvasses. Each of these artists was interested in the significance of the physical nature of painting in an age of mechanical (and now digital) reproduction. Over the course of the twentieth century, art has increasingly been consumed in reproduction (books, television, and today over the internet), and as a result the flattened, photographic image became more prominent than real paintings. This phenomenon was labelled the simulacrum by French philosopher Jean Baudrillard, and defined as the situation wherein representation becomes more dominant than reality.

Tim Maguire’s work should be contextualised within this same postmodern tradition that occupied artists in Europe and the United States. In fact, these paintings are the product of the simulacrum – he knew Fontana’s work from reproductions, but had not seen the paintings in the flesh (they are largely absent in Australian collections, with the exception of one painting at the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne). Interestingly, Tim Maguire’s paintings were not copied after real Fontana works, but imagined, based on images he had come across in books. This adds another interesting aspect of the series, namely the distribution and consumption of culture in a globalised world. Painted in the 1990s, before the internet made images instantly accessible across the world, printed reproductions of foreign artworks were the closest to the real thing. Tim Maguire’s Fontana paintings therefore also embody the Australian condition – a strong intellectual link with the European tradition, paired with an immense physical distance.

Comparable early works

Tim Maguire
Horizon Study, 1990
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Tim Maguire
Untitled 94U39, 1994
Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney
Tim Maguire
Lux in Tenebris, 1990
Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth


Click to watch Tim Maguire in conversation with Maria Stoljar


Tim Maguire was born in the United Kingdom, and lives and works in between his studios in Sydney and the Loire Valley in France. He studied at the Kunstakademie Dusseldorf under the Dutch conceptual artist Jan Dibbets (1984), and has exhibited internationally with solo exhibitions at the Chisenhale Gallery in London, Urs Meile in Zurich and Ikon Gallery in Birmingham amongst others. His works are in the collections of the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra, Art Gallery of New South Wales in Sydney, Art Gallery of South Australia in Adelaide, Art Gallery of Western Australia in Perth, National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne, the Museum of Old and New Art in Hobart, and the Queensland Art Gallery / Gallery of Modern Art in Brisbane, amongst others.

Selected Solo Exhibitions
2021 Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne
2018 Newcastle Art Gallery, Newcastle
2018 Maitland Regional Gallery
2018 Martin Browne Contemporary, Sydney
2017 Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Sydney
2015 Australian Print Workshop, Melbourne
2015 Perc Tucker Regional Gallery, Townsville
2013 Deutsche Bank Building, Sydney
2012 The Swansea Gallery, Perth
2011 Galerie Andreas Binder, Munich
2011 Von Lintel Gallery, New York
2011 The Australian Club, Melbourne
2009 Gow Langsford Gallery, Auckland
2008 Galerie Couvrat Desvergnes, Paris
2008 Hewer Street Studios, London
2008 Ikon Gallery, Birmingham
2007 Studio Franck Bordas, Paris
2006 Bathhurst Fossil and Mineral Museum
2005 Nick Allen Gallery, London
2004 Galerie Urs Meile, Lucerne
2003 Bendigo Art Gallery, Bendigo
2002 Mori Gallery, Sydney
2002 Campbelltown City Art Gallery
2001 John Curtin Gallery, Perth
2000 Galerie Cokkie Snoei, Rotterdam
2000 OXO Tower Wharf, London
1998 Projektraum, Berlin
1997 Andreas Hecker Gallerie, Cologne

Selected Collections
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney
Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide
Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth
Queensland Art Gallery / Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
The British Museum, London
Tasmanian Museum & Art Gallery, Hobart
Museum of Old & New Art, Hobart
Kunsthalle Nürnberg, Nuremberg
Ballarat Fine Art Gallery, Victoria
Bendigo Art Gallery, Victoria
Derwent Collection, Tasmania
Hamilton Art Gallery, Victoria
TarraWarra Museum of Art, Victoria
New Art Gallery, Walsall
McClelland Gallery & Sculpture Park, Langwarrin
Orange Regional Gallery, New South Wales
Parliament House Collection, Canberra
Tamar Collection, Tasmania
Academisch Ziekenhuis, Leiden
Deakin University, Melbourne
Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne
Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane
University of Queensland Art Museum, Brisbane
University of Launceston, Tasmania
University of Melbourne, Melbourne
University of Sydney, Sydney
Darwin College of Advanced Education, Darwin
Griffith Artworks, Brisbane
Artbank, Australia
Deutsche Bank, London
JMH Bank, Frankfurt
St Thomas’ Hospital, London
Qantas Collection, Sydney
Siemens AG, Munich
Zurich Insurance, Zurich

ILEANA at Explore Sydney Contemporary

Walead Beshty, Louise Bourgeois, Dorian Büchi, Michael Craig-Martin, Melissa Gordon, Richard Hamilton, Rachel Howard, Louise Lawler, Tony Lewis, Sol LeWitt, Tim Maguire, Takesada Matsutani, Edda Renouf, Bridget Riley, Peter Schuyff, Stansfield/Hooykaas, Wang Guangyi, Christopher Wool

Presented at Explore Sydney Contemporary (11-21 November 2021)

All artworks © the artist.