The traditional Western art museum is struggling a bit. Its former role as a repository of national values, as reified and aestheticised in paintings, sculpture, and the decorative arts, is today challenged if not assaulted on multiple fronts: ranging from economic, political, and social globalisation, to digital technology, to commercial popular culture. Increasingly, art museums’ collection displays – and especially their exhibitions and other public programs – are concerned not so much with the presentation of canonical works in diachronic array, but with disruptive transnational and transhistorical discourses. In this they are simply reflecting and responding to the rightful demands of First Nations, of the multiple cultures of immigrant communities and of the social-media generation to have their particular histories, concerns, and beliefs reflected in the public sphere. Hence the contemporary curatorial mashups: identity, experience, and the body rule, ok?
At the National Gallery of Australia, in the dying weeks of an anachronistic Pre-Raphaelite blockbuster, comes a modest but exemplary exhibition which demonstrates that previous and present professional preoccupations and methodologies can coexist harmoniously and productively.