Kerr the contextualist
Andrew Sayers’s thoughtful review of The Cambridge Companion to Australian Art (February 2012) encourages one to read this book that marks ‘the maturity of a new orthodoxy for Australian art’. However, it was his last two paragraphs that really caught my attention. Sayers refers to the omission of Joan Kerr and to her work in melding Australian art, design, and architecture into a vibrant whole.
In Kerr’s democratic vision, all artists, cartoonists, and craftspeople, professional or amateur, mainstream or marginalised, make valuable contributions to Australian art history. It was an approach that culminated in the publication of the ground-breaking Dictionary of Australian Artists: Painters, Sketchers, Photographers and Engravers to 1870 (1992). In 1995 Kerr pushed the boundaries of innovation further when she edited Heritage: The National Women’s Art Book: 500 Works by 500 Australian Women Artists from Colonial Times to 1955, which celebrated art across all mediums and genres.