Australian Representation at the Venice Biennale since 1954

Artist(s)
Tracey Moffatt
Curator
Natalie King
Commissioner
Naomi Milgrom AO
Exhibition
MY HORIZON

“MY HORIZON will present a compendium of texts that reflect on Tracey’s highly political and deeply personal fictions, allowing readers to ponder what might be over the horizon.”
Natalie King, Curator, 2017


Image credit:

Hell from the series PASSAGE, 2016, Tracey Moffat, © / Courtesy of the artist and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney and Tyler Rollins Fine Art, New York.

Show Details 2017
Artist(s)
Fiona Hall
Curator
Linda Michael
Commissioner
Simon Mordant AM
Exhibition
Wrong Way Time

“Fiona Hall brings together hundreds of disparate elements which find alignments and create tensions around three intersecting concerns: global politics, world finances, and the environment.”
Linda Michael, Curator, 2015




Image credit:

Fiona Hall, Wrong Way Time (detail), 2012-15installation of longcase clocks, cuckoo clocks, mantle clocks, a banjo clock, and longcase clocks, dimensions variable.
Image courtesy of the artist and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery
Image credit Clayton Glen

Show Details 2015
Artist(s)
Simryn Gill
Curator
Catherine de Zegher
Commissioner
Simon Mordant AM
Exhibition
Here, art grows on trees

“Her work proposes a space of negotiation between the small and the global, between nature and industry, as it reveals an understanding of the interconnectedness of all in a world in flux”
Catherine de Zegher, Curator, 2014

Simryn Gill’s exhibition Here, art grows on trees radically repositioned the function of the Australian Pavilion. Far from acting as sterile fortress for the protection of art works, Gill had half of the pavilion’s roof removed to allow the building to connect itself with its natural setting. The works were allowed to submit themselves to the forces of wind, rain and sunlight, as well as to the insects and birds that flew through the space. This was a fitting innovation, given the core theme of the exhibition. Gill’s works focussed on the connectedness of humanity and the natural environment without offering any definitive judgements or overriding proscriptions as to how that relationship should be conducted. Gill created an assemblage of works composed in a wide variety of media. The space was dominated by a series of large photographs of open-cut mines, a large rusted metal bowl, intricately torn fragments of paper from books swarming together like a vast mass of insects, and a number of sculptural and film-based works. The works were characterised by a timelessness that was both elegant and organic. Curator and friend Catherine de Zegher surmised Gill’s work this way – “Simryn Gill’s terrain is the intertidal zone, the insecure in-between zone—that shifting place on a beach where the ocean comes in, covering over shells and crabs, sand flies and sprouting mangroves, and bringing with it detritus of man-made goods down maritime trade routes, to then retreat again. Her work proposes a space of negotiation between the small and the global, between nature and industry, as it reveals an understanding of the interconnectedness of all in a world in flux.”




Image credits:

Simryn Gill, Untitled, 2004
still from Super 8mm film
Courtesy the artist.

Show Details 2013
Artist(s)
Hany Armanious
Curator
Anne Ellegood
Commissioner
Doug Hall AM
Exhibition
The Golden Thread

“the objects that constitute our everyday experience — shoes, boxes, shopping bags, wallpaper, toys, ashtrays — can carry as much visual pleasure, as much potential for beauty, as those things designed or deemed to be in the domain of aesthetics.”
Anne Ellegood, Curator, 2011

Hany Armanious staged a double take on what is worthy of attention, by presenting casts of worn everyday objects, most often in resin.  Armanious’ transmogrification of these objects sought to revivify the latent mystery and the sacred qualities of these objects. Curator Anne Ellegood’s commented on Armanious’ adeptness in employing a cultural fascination with ancient cultures and religions in achieving this end. “His invocation of ancient forms and cultures, his embrace of a nearly alchemical transformation of one material into another through his experimentations with casting, and his interest in incorporating the process of making into the works themselves, suggest that Armanious’ belief in the role conventional objects can play in an image-saturated world is a genuine endeavour to locate the mysterious within the mundane”.



Image credits:

Hany Armanious, Figure Eight, 2010
pigmented polyurethane resin, pewter, 99 x 174 x 39 cm
Image courtesy of the artist and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery

Show Details 2011
Artist(s)
Shaun Gladwell, Vernon Ah Kee, Ken Yonetani, Claire Healy and Sean Cordeiro
Curator
Felicity Fenner for Once Removed
Commissioner
Doug Hall AM
Exhibition
MADDESTMAXIMVS, Shaun Gladwell | Once Removed, Vernon Ah Kee, Ken Yonetani, Claire Healy, Sean Cordeiro

“Shaun’s involvement with the landscape — and urban spaces — holds recognition of the sense of place we Australians have in the history of our nation’s art.”
Doug Hall AM, Commissioner, 2009



Shaun Gladwell’s exhibition was presented in the Australian Pavilion while Once Removed was installed in the nearby Ludoteca. Gladwell’s exhibition consisted of slowed-footage video installations as well as a series of sculptural works that brought the exhibition and pavilion together as one. For instance, the motorbike from one of the videos, Apology to Roadkill, was embedded in the outside wall of the pavilion. Gladwell treated the pavilion as a ‘form of sculptural vessel’ creating a microcosm removed from the Giardini.

The group exhibition presented by Vernon Ah Kee, Ken Yonetani, Claire Healy and Sean Cordeiro was well received. According to Felicity Fenner, the Curator of Once Removed, the unifying theme of the works in the exhibition was that “things are not as they seem. Intrinsic to all are allusions to what lies beneath the surface, unseen and unfathomable”. The works probed Australian socio-political issues and reflected upon the human experience and condition.



Image credits:

Shaun Gladwell, Approach to Mundi Mundi, 2007
production still
Cinematography: Gotaro Uematsu, Image credit: Josh Raymond
Image courtesy of the artist and Anna Schwartz Gallery


Vernon Ah Kee, cantchant 2007
installation view
Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane
Image courtesy of the artist and Milani Gallery


Ken Yonetani, Ken and Julia Yonetani, Sweet Barrier Reef, 2009
vegetable gum, polystyerene foam, sugar
Image courtesy of the artists
Sean Cordeiro and Claire Healy, Life Span, 2009
175,218 VHS video cassettes, silicone, 600 x 330 x 517 cm
Installation view

Image courtesy of the artists, Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery and Gallery Barry Keldoulis

Show Details 2009
Artist(s)
Susan Norrie, Daniel von Sturmer, Callum Morton
Curator
(Senior Curatorial Advisor) Juliana Engberg
Commissioner
John Kaldor AM
Exhibition
HAVOC Susan Norrie, The Object of Things Daniel von Sturmer, Valhalla Callum Morton

“No theme links them and no curatorial premise overwrites them, but each has developed unique aesthetic aspects that are nuanced within the space they inhabit.”
Juliana Engberg, Senior Curatorial Advisor, 2007


With three artists, three sites and three exhibitions, Australia’s representation at the 2007 Biennale was an unprecedented undertaking. No theme or curatorial premise directly linked the three exhibitions.

Susan Norrie’s entrancing piece was presented at a time when public concern over climate change had surged the fore. Norrie’s work HAVOC depicted of traumatised landscapes within which populations are displaced by devastation caused by both natural forces and human abuse of nature. Norrie’s work can be interpreted as a response to a world immersed in political, environmental and social trauma.

Daniel von Sturmer’s exhibition, The Object of Things was an experimental contemplation of space, light and movement. Von Sturmer’s installation of video works and sculpture related to the Australian Pavilion not simply as a venue, but as an integral element of the art work itself.

Callum Morton’s work Valhalla was prompted by visions of building blasted, pummelled and ruined during the 2001 war in Afghanistan. In response he recreated his own childhood home in that similar transient state between integrity and obliteration – a home which had recently seen just after its demolition. Morton installed a large scale model installed in the gardens Palazzo Zenobio.



Image credits:

Daniel von Sturmer, The Object of Things, 2007
installation includes 5 objects, 5 screens and
plywood platform
Image credit: Eric Holm
Image courtesy of the artist and Anna Schwartz Gallery


Callum Morton, Valhalla, 2007
steel, polystyrene, epoxy resin, silicon, marble, glass, wood,
acrylic, paint, lights, sound, motor Installation view,
465 x 1475 x 850cm
Image courtesy of the artist and Anna Schwartz Gallery

Susan Norrie, HAVOC, 2006-2007
still from 16 channel video installation across three rooms
at the Palazzo Giustinian Lolin, 52nd Venice Biennale
Image courtesy the artist
HAVOC © Susan Norrie

Show Details 2007
Artist(s)
Ricky Swallow
Curator
Charlotte Day
Commissioner
John Kaldor AM
Exhibition
This Time Another Year

“I think my sculptures model a type of endurance. They can’t help but be registers of time.”
Ricky Swallow, Artist, 2005


Ricky Swallow presented a series of intricately carved sculptures, vividly sealing surreal moments in time. Swallow’s creations were at once simple and intricate, freezing the shape and form of a diverse selection of objects in a common medium. Swallow described his work by commenting that “I think my sculptures model a type of endurance. They can’t help but be registers of time. Although discrete, they are from a landscape of sorts, nothing occurs or changes independently”.



Image credits:

Ricky Swallow, The Exact Dimension of Staying Behind, 2005
Laminated lime wood, 70 x 110 x 105 cm
Art Gallery of South Australia
Maurice A. Clarke Bequest Fund 2013
Image courtesy the artist and Darren Knight Gallery

Show Details 2005
Artist(s)
Patricia Piccinini
Curator
Linda Michael
Commissioner
Victoria Lynn
Exhibition
We Are Family

“Though they may be in some way failed or mutant creations, her figures have a kind of innocence that makes it easy to see beauty in the grotesque.”
Linda Michael, Curator, 2003

Patricia Piccinini transformed the Australian Pavilion into a home, where her figures were, as the title of the exhibition suggested, a part of a family. Piccinini’s work questioned what ‘normal’ is and prompted interrogated of why some lives are valued more than others. Her sculpting of ‘deformed’ or ‘mutated’ creatures conjured from her own imagination created an atmosphere which was simultaneously confronting and poignant. Curator Linda Michael observed that “though they may be in some way failed or mutant creations, her figures have a kind of innocence that makes it easy to see beauty in the grotesque.” 



Image credits:

Patricia Piccinini, The Young Family, 2002
silicone, polyurethane, leather, human hair
Image courtesy the artist and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery

Show Details 2003
Artist(s)
Lyndal Jones
Curator
John Barrett-Lennard
Commissioner
Leon Paroissien
Exhibition
Deep Water/Aqua Profunda

“The absorbing intimacy of ‘Deep Water/Aqua Profunda creeps under the skin and in through the ears to enmesh the view in the tangled and unstable juxtapositions Jones presents.”
John Barrett-Lennard, Curator, 2001

The title of Lyndal Jones’ exhibition, Deep Water/Aqua Profunda was derived from a sign at Fitzroy Swimming Pool in Melbourne which has been heritage listed because of its attestation to the evolving, increasingly multicultural nature of Australian society in the 1950s. Jones’ site-specific, multi-screen video installation highlighted the changing cultural texture of urban Australia by drawing on the geographical and cultural similarities between maritime cities like Venice and Sydney. She explored the notion that new forms of mobility, both real and virtual now mean that cities such as these are no worlds apart – they are connected by a singular global ocean.  Just as the lower level of the Australian Pavilion is surrounded by water, Jones intended it to echo an Australian beach house – ‘an elevated minimal platform near the water’.



Image credits:

Lyndal Jones, Deep Water/Aqua Profunda, 2001
multi-screen video and sound installation
Image credit: John Brash
Image courtesy of the artist and the Anna Schwartz Gallery

Show Details 2001
Artist(s)
Howard Arkley
Curator
Timothy Morrell
Commissioner
Ron Radford AM
Exhibition
The Home Show

“Howard Arkley’s paintings turn the Australian dream into a hallucination.”
Timothy Morrell, Curator, 1999

Howard Arkley’s exhibition of paintings examined suburbanity and domesticity in an entirely new light. According to Curator Timothy Morrell, Arkley’s depiction of suburban interiors and exteriors “turn the Australian dream into a hallucination.” He observed that “The reassuring stereotypes of comfortable middle-class style are exaggerated into a strange world of fantastic colours and vibrating shapes. Normality is enlarged until it appears bizarre”.

The satirical title of the exhibition pointed to the environment of reproduction that a home show creates. By association, Arkley also commented on the constructedness of the Giardini pavilions and Biennale as a whole, where styles are exaggerated and normality is enlarged. In this way, he highlighted the excess of information, and overload of ideas in the idealised art culture biennales such as these. His commonplace subject matter alluded to the appeal of ‘high’ culture as it is literally blurred with ‘low’ culture.



Image credits:

Howard Arkley, Floriated Residence, 1994
synthetic polymer paint on canvas, 203 x 153 cm
The Vizard Foundation of Art Collection, University of Melbourne
Image courtesy of Kalli Rolfe Contemporary Art
© The Estate of Howard Arkley

Show Details 1999
Artist(s)
Emily Kame Kngwarreye, Judy Watson, Yvonne Koolmatrie
Curator
Hetti Perkins, Brenda L Croft, Victoria Lynn
Commissioner
Michael Lynch CBE, AM
Exhibition
Fluent

“The work of these three Aboriginal women artists is a fine example of the ways in which an ancient past can not only inform, but be the impetus for contemporary artistic concerns.”
Edmund Capon, Director, Art Gallery of New South Wales, 1997


The focus on Aboriginal artists in Australia’s 1997 exhibition was intended to honour the thirtieth anniversary of the landmark 1967 referendum on the place of Aboriginal people in Australia’s Constitution. Notwithstanding the diversity of work of work exhibited by the three exhibiting artists, the uniting concept of the exhibition was fluidity of expression. Michael Lynch, the Commissioner of the exhibition highlighted the strong connection between each artist and their land: “Their work, various as it is, presents and abiding sense of self-assuredness that stems from the strength of its connection to the land. The art of Indigenous Australians is an expression of the inextricable link between self and place from which stems its powerful cultural identity”.



Image credits:

Emily Kame Kngwarreye, Untitled (Awelye), 1994
synthetic polymer paint on canvas, 6 panels, each
190.0 x 56.7cm.
Image courtesy of Utopia Arts Sydney.
© Emily Kame Kngwarreye

Judy Watson, Canyon, 1997
pigment, pastel and ink on canvas pigment,
pastel and ink on canvas
588.0 x 176.7 cm
Image courtesy of National Gallery of Australia
© Judy Watson.

Yvonne Koolmatrie, Eel trap, 1997
sedge rushes (Lepidosperma canescens),
168 x 59 x 59 cm
Art Gallery of New South Wales
Mollie Gowing Acquisition Fund for Contemporary Aboriginal Art 1999
Image courtesy of Art Gallery of New South Wales
© Yvonne Koolmatrie

Show Details 1997
Artist(s)
Bill Henson
Curator
Isobel Crombie
Commissioner
Anne Lewis AO
Exhibition

“There is no easy explanation for the creative puzzle that is Bill Henson’s art. It dwells on the value of what is difficult and mysterious in the drama of each individual’s existence”
Isobel Crombie, Curator, 1995


Henson’s exhibition of ‘cut screens’ for the 1995 Venice Biennale continued his ongoing investigation and preoccupation with the human face and form. At a time when photography was being questioned as an art form due to its mass accessibility and new technological influences, Henson’s exhibition cemented its future on a world stage.

Henson’s works were composed of photographic elements cut, taped and pinned to cover plywood frames. The works enveloped the viewer in a storm of human drama that was impossible to fully fathom.

Arts writer Michael Heyward observed: “this new work notates a kind of chaos, the beginning of time or the end: are we staring at things at the point of their collapse or at the moment before everything coheres? We know only that more is happening than we can understand, perhaps more than we can bear”.



Image credits:

Bill Henson, Untitled #39, 1998 (detail)
photograph, 104 x 154 cm
Image courtesy the artist and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery

Show Details 1995
Artist(s)
Jenny Watson
Curator
Judy Annear
Commissioner
Judy Annear
Exhibition
Paintings with Veils and False Tails

“Within these apparently ordinary and simple images and words, the complex psychodramas of life are played out.”
Judy Annear, Commissioner, 1993

Jenny Watson’s work consisted of a series of quasi-portraits - portraits that characterised both herself and her alter egos. These works contemplated the many facets of the self, while also trying to envisage the whole. Watson’s experience of living and working informed her commentary on the rapidly changing nature of the world, whereby one is concurrently included and excluded by new technologies.

The thought and speech text accompanying each work encapsulated the persona and internal narrative of each subject and often gave voice to their insecurities. These texts were like dialogues in silent films; the viewer was invited to make an association with, and often improvise their own interpretation of the words.




Image credits:

Jenny Watson, Friendship 1992
oil on velvet with ribbon and false horse tail,
150 x 76 cm & 50.5 x 40.5 cm
Image courtesy the artist and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery

Show Details 1993
Artist(s)
Rover Thomas, Trevor Nickolls
Curator
(Exhibition Director) Seva Frangos
Commissioner
Michael A. O’Ferrall
Exhibition

“The theme of the living landscape and its immanent and mystical character lies at the heart of Rover Thomas’ and Trevor Nickolls’ paintings.”
Michael A O’Ferrall, Commissioner, 1990

This exhibition was the first time Aboriginal art had been the focus of Australia’s representation at the Venice Biennale. The exhibition gave voice to two equally vivid perspectives on the concept of ‘landscape’.

Nickolls’ work centred on the socio-political landscapes within which the individual must exist and formulate identity. He pinpointed contrasts between untouched bush land and the city with graphically intricate and politically threatening cityscapes.

Rover Thomas’ work focused on depictions of the Kimberley region of Northern Australia, where he had worked on a cattle station. Thomas’ works evoked the experience of a landscape as a personal and spiritual one. The works expressed an entrancing intimacy with the landscape that they depict. Unlike Nickoll’s work, Thomas’ paintings do not depict people within the landscape they depict, perhaps because the relationship between the two is implicit.



Image credits:

Trevor Nickolls, A cultural terrorist, 1987
synthetic polymer paint on canvas, 125.5x125.1 cm
Image courtesy of the Art Gallery of Western Australia.
© Trevor Nickolls 1987

Rover Thomas, Kununurra turnoff, 1986
ochre on plywood, 60.9 x 90.8 cm
Image courtesy of the Art Gallery of Western Australia.
© Rover Thomas 1986

Show Details 1990
Artist(s)
Arthur Boyd AC, OBE
Curator
Commissioner
Grazia Gunn
Exhibition

“…an artist whose personal vision has continued to provoke and unsettle us since the 1940s.”
Donald Horne, Chair, Australia Council, 1988

Organised by the Australian National Gallery, this was the inaugural exhibition in the new Australian Pavilion designed by renowned Australian architect Philip Cox AO. Through the efforts of Australian industrialist and patron for the artsFranco Belgiorno-Nettis, Australia was allocated the then last site available  in the Giardini della Biennale (Biennale Gardens). The was pavilion prefabricated in Australia, using Australian materials,and shipped to Venice for construction.

It was fitting that Arthur Boyd, such an honoured Australian artist, be the first to exhibit there. Boyd had represented Australia at the Biennale thirty years before, in 1958 along with Arthur Streeton. Boyd’s work in this exhibition showed a breathtaking evolution in style and subject matter. The exhibition consisted of eight very large works, each situating a metaphysical narrative within distinctively Australian landscapes. Boyd’s contemplation of themes such as Australian identity, war and the role of the artist in society was both fluent and arresting.



Image credits:

Arthur Boyd, Australian scapegoat, 1987
Oil on canvas, 275 x 426.5 cm
Art Gallery of New South Wales
Gift of the artist 1994
Image courtesy of the Art Gallery of New South Wales
© Reproduced with permission of Bundanon Trust

Show Details 1988
Artist(s)
Imants Tillers
Curator
Kerry Crowley, Paul Taylor
Commissioner
Kerry Crowley
Exhibition

“Our paintings, like our cultural condition, are destined to be a kind of perpetual mourning. Mechanical reproduction is a purgatory or limbo for image patterns”
Imants Tillers, Artist, 1986

Imants Tillers contributed six works to the 1986 Australian exhibition at the Venice Biennale, at which he was the sole exhibiting artist. The enormous size of the works lent them a monumental quality, though Tillers’ montage-like style tempered this with a sense of intimacy and returned them to a human scale. His creation of new work from the appropriation, superimposition, reproduction and juxtaposition of the work of others encouraged viewers not only to reevaluate the original work through Tillers’ eyes, but empowered them to bring their own interpretations and impressions to bear in experiencing art.



Image credits:

Imants Tillers, Heart of the Wood, 1985
oilstick, oil, synthetic polymer paint, 338 canvas boards,
nos. 5002 – 5339, 280 x 648 cm
Image courtesy of the artist and the Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery

Show Details 1986
Artist(s)
Peter Booth, Rosalie Gascoigne AM
Curator
Commissioner
Katrina Rumley
Exhibition
Works by Peter Booth and Rosalie Gascoigne

“Those who have not been ‘down under’ prefer to see what is unique about the country. Yet what is ultimately unique is the sensibility of creative Australians. There is a freshness, an openness, a directness and often a raw-ness that generally manages to surface.”
Nick Waterlow, Visual Arts Board, Australia Council, 1982


This exhibition of contrasting, yet somehow complementary works completed between 1976 and 1981 was drawn from both private and public collections. The most direct point of contrast between the works of the two exhibiting artists – Rosalie Gascoigne and Peter Booth was the mode of their creation. Whilst Gascgoine’s works were created through a process of gathering and transformation, Booth’s were created by making hallucination manifest.

Emerging from an unsettling darkness, Booth’s paintings and drawings left the viewer with an undefinable uneasiness, akin to having awoken from a nightmare. The intensity of feeling, and the sense of urgency conveyed in his work was amongst their greatest stylistic achievements.

Contrastingly, Gascgoine’s works elicited a unique grace and poetry from objects gathered and found. Her work compelled viewers to look afresh at Australia’s everyday landscapes, to see for the first time the colours and textures and textures that are hidden in plain view for the first time.




Image credits:

Rosalie Gascoigne, Harvest,1982
256 wads of newspaper nailed to plywood, 246 × 240 cm
Image courtesy of the artist and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery

Peter Booth, Painting, 1981
oil on canvas, 197.5 x 304.5 cm
Art Gallery of New South Wales
Image courtesy Art Gallery of New South Wales
© Peter Booth, licensed by Viscopy

Show Details 1982
Artist(s)
Mike Parr, Tony Coleing, Kevin Mortensen
Curator
Penny Coleing
Commissioner
Mary Shaw
Exhibition
Art from 1968-1980

“What this trio is saying, with different emphases, is that the condition of man and the conditions under which art finds itself continuously viable give rise to questions which they find more likely to receive some answers through art and creativity than through anything resembling definitive analysis.”
Elwyn Lynn, Visual Arts Board, Australia Council, 1980

The work of the three artists selected to represent Australia at the 1980 Venice Biennale served primarily to wield art as a tool with which to question and to provoke. Elwyn Lynn, Chairman of the Australia Council’s Visual Arts Board commented that “what this trio is saying, with different emphases, is that the condition of man and the conditions under which art finds itself continuously viable give rise to questions which they find more likely to receive some answers through art and creativity than through anything resembling definitive analysis.”



Image credits:

Tony Coleing, Yellow Cake, 1977
polystyrene foam, metallic glitter, paper, plastic, tissue paper,
ink, edition of 1000, 10 x 25.2 x 25.5 cm
Image courtesy of Tony Coleing

Kevin Mortensen, Cassowaries, 1979
painted terracotta and wood
Image courtesy of the artist, the Australian Galleries
Photo: Suzanne Davies

Mike Parr, Black Box: Theatre of Self Correction Part 2 (detail), 1980
Image courtesy the artist and the Anna Schwartz Gallery

Show Details 1980
Artist(s)
Ken Unsworth AM, John Davis, Robert Owen
Curator
Commissioner
Daniel Thomas
Exhibition

“…Australians have been concerned with the transformation of European ideas, and local nature and indigenous attitudes into art. John Davis, Robert Owen, and Ken Unsworth epitomise, with individual freshness and authoritative elan, some of the way in which artists are effecting this”
Elwyn Lynn, Visual Arts Board, Australia Council, 1978


The 1978 Australian exhibition marked Australia’s return after a two decade absence, following the establishment of the Australia Council in 1975, and Council’s recognition of the importance of the Venice Biennale as a global platform for arts dialogue. Much had changed in the interim. The composition of the exhibition could not have signaled a more complete departure from the style of work selected for previous Biennales. Three experimental artists working in mixed media, sculpture, installation and performance were selected to represent Australia. They were Ken Unsworth, John Davis, and Robert Owen. The radically different content of this exhibition compared with that of those which preceded it reflected the spirit of cultural reinvigoration and the reinvention of Australian identity that pervaded Australian society in the 1970s.

In introducing this exhibition, the Chairman of the Australia Council’s Visual Arts Board, Elwyn Lynn observed that “…Australians have been concerned with the transformation of European ideas, and local nature and indigenous attitudes into art. John Davis, Robert Owen, and Ken Unsworth epitomise, with individual freshness and authoritative elan, some of the way in which artists are effecting this”.



Image credits:

John Davis, Transference and continuum, 1977
(i) Marker (two parts), 1977: twigs, string, paper canvas
(ii) Ridge, 1977: Twigs, stones, bark, string, feathers, paper, latex
(iii) Tower, 1978: Twigs, stones, paper, latex, canvas, string
(iv) Device, 1978: Canvas, twigs, latex
(v) Flag, 1978: Canvas, latex
Image courtesy of Arc One Gallery
©Penelope Davis and Martin Davis. Administered by Viscopy.

Robert Owen, Memory and Logic Units. Phase Zone 1-2, 1978;
Split Gate, 1977; Cross Reference Nos. 1, 2, 3, 4, 1977; Cross
Reference and Two-way Switch, 1977 (installation view)
Image courtesy of the artist and Arc One Gallery

Ken Unsworth, Suspended stone circle, 1974-1975
circle of stones suspended by wires from steel beam,
280 x 450 x 274 cm
Image courtesy of the artist

Show Details 1978
Artist(s)
Sir Arthur Streeton, Arthur Boyd AC, OBE
Curator
Mitti Risi
Commissioner
Exhibition

“Arthur Boyd belongs to no particular school. A lone figure, painter, and maker of ceramic sculpture, in turn naturalist, impressionist and symbolist, his work is always personal and stimulating. Although still a young man in his thirties, he has already carved a niche for himself and is established as one of Australia’s most progressive artists”
Robert Campbell, artist, 1958

“There was much in Streeton of the lyrical poet – he always called Australia the golden land – when he painted ‘Golden Summer’ at the age of twenty-one – a sheer feat of genius”
Lionel Lindsay, artist, 1958



Australia was represented at the 1958 Venice Biennale by famed landscape artist and Heidelberg School exponent, Arthur Streeton. The other exhibiting artist was Arthur Boyd – the artist who would go on to become one of Australia’s most honoured visual artists, whose artistic career was approaching its zenith. Writing for the exhibition catalogue, artist Robert Campbell commented that “Arthur Boyd belongs to no particular school. A lone figure, painter, and maker of ceramic sculpture, in turn naturalist, impressionist and symbolist, his work is always personal and stimulating. Although still a young man in his thirties, he has already carved a niche for himself and is established as one of Australia’s most progressive artists”

Both Boyd’s and Streeton’s works showed a sensitivity to the unique Australian landscape, particularly its brilliant skies, the openness of its land and broad horizons. Together, but in different ways, they expressed something of what is unique about Australia and its landscape. To some, however, the inclusion of Streeton’s work in a contemporary art exhibition was incongruous, given that most had been completed the previous century. Boyd’s more recent works, which dealt with controversial subject such as the treatment of Australia’s indigenous people were excluded, in favour of some of his early landscape paintings, as well as those contemplating biblical narratives.

The closing of Australia’s 1958 exhibition marked the beginning of a two decade hiatus in Australia’s representation at the Venice Biennale. This period of absence is covered in Dr Sarah Scott’s essay, Imaging a Nation, Australia’s representation at the Venice Biennale,1958.



Image credits:

Arthur Boyd, Irrigation Lake, Wimmera, 1950
Resin and tempera on composition board, 81.4 x 121.9 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Reproduced with the permission of Bundanon Trust
Image courtesy of the National Gallery of Victoria
Arthur Streeton, Golden Summer, Eaglemont, 1889

Show Details 1958
Artist(s)
Albert Tucker AO
Curator
Commissioner
Exhibition

“Albert Tucker responded emotionally to the ‘warm bath of religion’, as he described it, when living in Italy in the 1950s. His paintings were not concerned with place but rather with drama and dissonant allegory; the tragic and the timeless.”
Lesley Harding, Curator, Heide Museum of Modern Art, 2014

Albert Tucker’s involvement in the 1956 Venice Biennale was shaped by his friendship with the Sidney Nolan, who had exhibited in the 1954 Biennale. It was Nolan who advocated the opportunities the Biennale represented to Tucker. It was Nolan’s photographs of the drought-stricken Australian landscape, and the deadly toll it took on livestock that inspired much of the work Tucker contributed to the exhibition. The late 1950s would prove to be a defining period in Tucker’s artistic career. His work from this period defined the Australian outback as vast, hopeless and harrowing place. Despite living abroad during this period, his native land remained a staple of his artistic output. His experience of living in Italy had a particular impact on his imagination, as Lesley Harding, Curator at the Heide Museum of Modern Art observes – “Albert Tucker responded emotionally to the ‘warm bath of religion’, as he described it, when living in Italy in the 1950s. His paintings were not concerned with place but rather with drama and dissonant allegory; the tragic and the timeless”.



Image credit:

Albert Tucker, Encounter, 1955
oil on composition board, 94.4 x 129 cm
Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne
On loan from Barbara Tucker 2000
Image courtesy of Heide Museum of Modern Art

Show Details 1956
Artist(s)
Sidney Nolan OM, Ac, Russell Drysdale AC, Sir William Dobell OBE
Curator
Commissioner
Sidney Nolan, Daryl Lindsay
Exhibition

“This was a dynamic and creative period for Australian art, with artists looking beyond the superficial surface of the landscape and its people, developing a new and personal way to express as yet unsaid ideas about Australian life and landscape. The work of Sydney Nolan, Russell Drysdale and William Dobell took on a personal and haunting expressiveness, using a poetic imagination to create uncompromising Australian legends.”
Dr Anna Gray, Head of Australian Art, National Gallery of Australia, 2014


Australia began its representation at the Venice Biennale by providing a stage to three giants of Australian contemporary art at a particularly important moment in its history. According to Dr Anna Gray, Head of Australian Art at the National Gallery of Australia, “this was a dynamic and creative period for Australian art, with artists looking beyond the superficial surface of the landscape and its people, developing a new and personal way to express as yet unsaid ideas about Australian life and landscape. The works of Sydney Nolan, Russell Drysale and William Dobell took on a personal and haunting expressiveness, using a poetic imagination to create uncompromising Australian legends.”



Image credits:

William Dobell, Nude, 1931
oil on canvas on wood, 89.5 x 69.2 cm
Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney
Image courtesy of the Art Gallery of New South Wales
© Courtesy Sir William Dobell Art Foundation.

Sidney Nolan, Constable Fitzpatrick and Kate Kelly, 1946
enamel paint on composition board, 90.7 x 121.2 cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Gift of Sunday Reed 1977
Image courtesy of the National Gallery of Australia

Russel Drysdale, The Station Yard, 1943
oil on canvas 61.5 x 76.6 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne.
Image courtesy of the National Gallery of Victoria
© Estate of Russel Drysdale

Show Details 1954
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