Painting is very much back on the agenda, as ACCA proves in the first large-scale survey of contemporary Australian painting in over a decade
For centuries, there have been proclamations of the death of painting. It happened with the advent of photography and cinema in the 19th and early 20th centuries, again in the ’60s and ’70s when new practices like performance art became popular, and in the ’90s when video and installation art came to the fore.
But while the popularity of painting might wax and wane, it’s not going anywhere, says Max Delany, artistic director of the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art. As co-curator of Painting. More Painting alongside Annika Kristensen and Hannah Mathews, Delany is ready to demonstrate just how vital and diverse contemporary Australian painting really is.
“It’s been interesting to see over the past decade a renewed interest in painting,” he says, crediting the rise of screen and online culture as a major influence. “2006 was the year in which Tumblr was invented, and Tumblr suggests the proliferation and digital flow of images,” he says. “In so many ways, [this] has given renewed impetus and stimulus to painting.”
Digital culture has revitalised painting, but it has also arguably reminded us why people fell in love with painting all those centuries ago. “Painting is a medium which slows down our perception,” says Delany. “It asks us to reflect slowly and carefully upon a singular object and upon real materiality; paint on a surface, the way that it is structured and composed. It is something that demands time and attention. A painting can take you into another world.”
What this world might be will vary enormously in the exhibition. The curators have taken care to represent artists from all states and territories, all backgrounds and all levels of experience; early career artists include Ry David Bradley, Helen Johnson and Abdul Abdullah, who in his ’Self Portrait of Ophelia’ takes the tragic romantic figure of the Pre-Raphaelite movement and provocatively represents himself, a Muslim Australian, instead. Established artists will showcase new work, among them Vivienne Binns and Nyapanyapa Yunupingu.
Painting. More Painting will be presented in two chapters, running for one month each. In each chapter, ACCA’s three small galleries will play host to seven solo artists. In the big gallery, visitors will be met by a striking 90 metre-long mural by young Melbourne-based painter Sam Songailo, which will serve as a backdrop for a network of paintings by 25 to 30 different artists. They’ll be presented alphabetically – an unusual choice which Delany hopes will create some surprising connections. “You’ll see things which may have happy dialogue or an abrasive relationship, he says. “Indeed what it will allow is for interesting juxtapositions to arise, underlining the dynamism, diversity and pluralism of current painting practice.” The painting is dead, long live the painting.
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