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Roger Benjamin

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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Kandinsky

Art Gallery of New South Wales
by
20 November 2023

We can all be grateful for Kandinsky, this summer’s main exhibition at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. It is a strong and balanced show by the most influential among the early practitioners of modern abstract art. There are four main collections of Kandinsky’s work worldwide, but the strongest one belongs to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York. It was formed from the late 1920s by Baroness Hilla von Rebay, a German artist advising one of America’s richest men, the Philadelphian-born mining magnate Guggenheim. Friends of the artist, in 1939 they founded the Museum of Non-Objective Painting, whose collections, two decades later, were housed in the celebrated spiral building designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.

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Childhood memories often merge real life with imaginary nostalgia, but in Growing up Modern, Roger Benjamin’s memoir of his family’s 1956 modernist Round House, in the then rural Canberra suburb of Deakin, we find adolescent memories collaged with a mix of archival, architectural, social, and personal histories. It is set mainly during Australia’s postwar years of the 1950s when reconstructive policies drove economic, scientific, educational, and cultural reform. this was also a time when an influx of immigrants, multicultural labourers, and specialist émigrés inserted themselves into Australia’s Anglocentric landscape. The book tells a Canberra and Melbourne story about architectural and cultural modernism, so often imported with the émigrés, that countered Australia’s cultural cringe and anachronistic nationalism. 

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