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David Hansen

Juan Davila is a major figure in contemporary Australian art. His fluent appropriations of other artists’ styles and motifs (all neatly numbered and labelled), combined with an assertive iconography of sexual desire and transgression (all bare thighs and thrusting tongues and mutant genitalia), made him one of the most interesting painters of his generation – the postmodern, theoretical, Art and Text push of the 1980s. He has represented his country in northern hemisphere exhibitions from Paris to Banff, and has maintained strong connections across his native Latin America. The New South Wales Vice Squad’s infamous impounding of Stupid as a painter in 1982 cemented the artist’s ‘bad boy’ reputation with the general public, as well as within the art industry, while his painting of a semi-nude, hermaphrodite Simón Bolivar giving the finger actually created a full-scale diplomatic incident involving Chile, Venezuela, Colombia and Ecuador. Davila’s regular output of polemical essays, his gloriously rude lampoons of political leaders and his more recent, sober protests against refugee detention have ensured his work has a place in public discourse. A comprehensive survey is long overdue.

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The Western, colonial, patriarchal hegemony having eroded somewhat in recent years, the purposes and methods of art and of museum management and curatorship are undergoing fundamental change. Formerly unchallenged Anglophone-transatlantic canons and practices have been undermined by broader international perspectives, by the impact of digital technologies, and by the politics of identity – in ethnicity and nation, gender and sexuality.

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Māori markings: Tā moko

National Gallery of Australia
by
25 March 2019

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 ...

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The settler art history of Australia is not a long one – not much more than two hundred years – so it is all the more surprising that the literature of its first century should remain so riddled with holes. It is a sad reflection on the priorities of the academic and curatorial professions that (certainly as far as concerns that conventional, fundamental professional resource, the monographic study) some very significant artists have been neglected or completely ignored. To give just a few examples, it is years since there was anything new or substantial on Augustus Earle, S.T. Gill, Nicholas Chevalier or Louis Buvelot, while there have never been focused, extended studies of first-generation early colonial artists such as the surveyor-explorer G.W. Evans and the natural history painter John Lewin, of Benjamin Duterrau, artist of The Conciliation (1840), Australia’s first history painting, or of the 1860s and 1870s landscapists J.H. Carse, Thomas Clark and Henry Gritten.

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Patronage and ABR

Private philanthropy has never been more important for the arts, as costs (and expectations) rise, and as traditional sources of funding and revenue become more unpredictable. ABR has had some success in this regard since entering the field two years ago, but June marks a turning point for us, with the formal launch of our philanthropy program in Melbourne, on 2 June. David Malouf, one of Australia’s most celebrated writers, is our guest speaker. There will be more such events around Australia in coming months.

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I am at the exhibition ‘National Treasures from Australia’s Great Libraries’. I have come to see a picture of a man named Bungaree. I am standing in front of him, but I am distanced. The painting is glazed, low-lit, hung on a wall on the far side of quite a deep display case. If I stand up straight he is in focus, but too far away for me to see the details. As ...

John McPhee put John Glover in the picture, identifying him as the foreground figure with sketchbook sharing our view of the Tamar River at Launceston. David Hansen saw that Glover marked his Hobart Town house in special colour at the centre of a distant panorama of the town, the viewpoint for which is across the Derwent in a sportive scene of indigenous Tasmanians at Kangaroo Point. For that work, the artist’s point of view (and ours) doubles with that of the Tasmanians, and the artist, looking at the neat settlement under frowning Mt Wellington, sees himself in it. I like the verbal image, which joins the painter to the scholar in viewing a work and imagines the artist as one who searches for meaning. It may not correspond with the deep perspective of art history, however, and the authors of John Glover and the Colonial Picturesque have preferred to look back with hindsight. An intriguing aspect of this gentle, though magisterial, text is what the writers saw.


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