Julie Ewington

The twenty-third Biennale has been highly anticipated through two long years since Brook Andrew’s twenty-second Biennale suddenly closed in March 2020 as Covid took hold of the country, not to reopen for three months.

This year’s guiding idea, rīvus – meaning stream, but embracing rivers, fresh water, saltwater, lagoons, banks, confluencesis peculiarly topical, as water resources, in both scarcity and flood, become every year a more urgent issue.

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Matisse: Life and spirit

Art Gallery of New South Wales
by
07 December 2021

This exhibition, alive with colour, is a gift to our grey summer. The Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW) was already crowded at 10.30am on the first Sunday; our umbrellas were bagged, our raincoats cloaked. Matisse: Life and spirit, drawn mainly from the exceptional holdings of the Centre Pompidou in Paris, is the first dedicated Matisse exhibition in Australia for twenty-six years. The Gallery carefully says this is the ‘largest collection of work by Matisse to be seen in Sydney’, but that understates the appeal of this lovely exhibition. It offers an incisive, intelligent, and thorough introduction to Matisse that is essential viewing; its generosity and subtlety will repay multiple visits. (I wish I were a kid again, could see Matisse for the first time.)

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Doug Aitken: NEW ERA

Museum of Contemporary Art
by
04 November 2021

This splendid exhibition is named for Doug Aitken’s three-channel video NEW ERA (2018), which revisits Martin Cooper, the elderly American inventor of the mobile telephone and his first call on the device in 1973. The video is set in a mirrored hexagonal room at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney, its multiplying reflections fracturing and confounding place and time, wrapping around visitors. The work neatly encapsulates American artist Doug Aitken’s interests: how do humans and their technologies sit in the natural world? Importantly, how do we use these technologies to see the world we live in, to make it meaningful? The idea recurs throughout Aitken’s art and writings; it is manifested in the mirrors that incorporate us in his works.

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Hilma af Klint: The Secret Paintings

Art Gallery of New South Wales
by
24 June 2021

Hilma af Klint: The Secret Paintings is attracting steady crowds at the Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW). Perhaps enthusiasm is too ebullient a word for the pervading mood of reverence, but clearly Hilma af Klint’s newly minted reputation preceded her. The humming scrutiny is silenced in the famous double-height space in Andrew Anderson’s 1972 building: ten enormous abstract paintings, each more than three metres high, surround viewers in an installation not unlike the temple that the artist originally planned for them. Remarkably, The Ten Largest were painted in 1907, part of The Paintings for the Temple project between 1906 and 1915 that eventually comprised 193 paintings. This ambition and scale were not seen anywhere else at that time: the phenomenon that is af Klint is rewriting the history of modern art.

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Clarice Beckett: The Present Moment

Art Gallery of South Australia
by
13 April 2021

Bells and whistles are common enough, in both form and content, in contemporary exhibitions. This time they are actual, sonic: a soundscape of birdsong, a Melbourne tram bell, clopping horses’ hooves floating through Clarice Beckett: The Present Moment, which is at the Art Gallery of South Australia (AGSA) until 16 May. It’s lovely, subtle, complementing a revelatory encounter with an artist whose work is, through Tracey Lock’s enchanting exhibition, about to become far better known.

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Joan Mitchell: World of Colour

National Gallery of Australia
by
15 March 2021

The American Joan Mitchell is one of a legion of celebrated twentieth-century artists with a ghost presence in this country. Since her death in 1992, her vibrant, energetic paintings have become increasingly appreciated, and now her star is rising again. This year Mitchell is the subject of a major retrospective in the United States, which will also be seen in Paris in 2022. The National Gallery of Australia’s current exhibition is part of the year-long Know My Name suite of projects. An outcome of the NGA’s long relationship with master printmaker Kenneth Tyler, Joan Mitchell: World of Colour, led by emerging curator Anja Loughhead, is the first exhibition anywhere to focus solely on Mitchell’s prints, which were made in two concentrated bursts with Tyler, in 1981 and again in 1992, just before the artist’s death.

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Single-name status is granted to very few. In Australian art, ‘Daniel’ has always been Daniel Thomas: curator, museum director, walking memory, standard-setter (and inveterate corrector of errors), passionate lover of art, friend of Australian artists. His life’s work has been establishing the understanding of Australian art in our art museums, and his influence is incalculable. The late Andrew Sayers rightly described Thomas as ‘the single most influential curator in creating a shape for the history of Australian art’, but as editors Hannah Fink and Steven Miller observe, ‘Daniel is everywhere and nowhere: the greatest authority, hiding in the detail of someone’s else’s footnote, and in the judgements that have made the canon of Australian art.’

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This beautiful book is ostensibly a conventional art monograph. In its innovative tweaking of the standard model, however, Centre of the Centre is one of the most rewarding publications about an Australian artist in recent years. Exploring two decades of ambitious work by Mel O’Callaghan, an Australian based in Paris, the book begins now, with her latest projects. In a quasi-geological enterprise, it then mines works whose interconnected seams comprise expansive video installations, sometimes including objects; wonderful paintings on glass; and, always, performed actions. Speaking about Parade (2014), Juliana Engberg noted the ‘ritualised, Sisyphean endeavour’ characterising O’Callaghan’s work.

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A Place to Paint: Colin McCahon in Auckland

Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki
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18 December 2019

New Zealander Colin McCahon is the greatest postwar artist of the two antipodean countries. Hands down. In his own country, McCahon (1919–87) is a household name, and the exhibition A Place to Paint: Colin McCahon in Auckland at Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, and the associated publication of Justin Paton’s McCahon Country (Penguin Books), celebrate his centenary. Surprisingly, though, many Australians don’t know McCahon’s work.

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To highlight Australian Book Review's arts coverage and to celebrate some of the year's memorable concerts, operas, films, ballets, plays, and exhibitions, we invited a group of critics and arts professionals to nominate their favourites – and to nominate one production they are looking forward to in 2016. (We indicate which works were reviewed in Arts Up ...