The National Biennial of New Australian Art: a guide

Our guide to Sydney's new biennial, commencing in 2017

Photograph: Ken LeanforeMCA: Rose Nolan 'Big words – to keep going breathing helps (circle work)' (2016-2017)

What is The National? It’s a festival of new Australian art that will happen every two years for at least three editions: 2017/2019/2021. This means – phew – it will be alternating with Sydney's other major art festival: the Biennale of Sydney.

When is it? The first edition The National Biennial of New Australian Art opened March 30 and runs for slightly different durations at each venue.

Where is it? It’s at Art Gallery of New South Wales, Carriageworks and the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA).

How many artists are presenting works within the festival? 48 – roughly divided into a third of that number per venue.

Who chose the artists? Each venue appointed specific curators (from among their curatorial staff) for their part of The National, and the resulting curatorial collective chose the artists. Below you can see a breakdown of the curators and artists at each venue.

What kind of art is it? All kinds of art. There are paintings, drawings, photographs, textile works, sculptures, installations, sculpture installations, video works – you get the jist.

Why is it exciting? It’s particularly exciting because the works are predominantly new, and created specifically for this festival. When you think that each edition of The National will present new work by about 48 artists, with no guiding theme or limitations, you start to see the potential for this exhibition to be a snapshot of what are artists are interested in or concerned about right now.

What else? There will be a public program of performances and talks during the festival – check The National website for up-to-date information and tickets. 

Click through for a gallery of images from The National 2017.

Highlights from The National

1
Nell at the MCA
Photograph: Daniel Boud
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Nell at the MCA

The more you look at Nell’s installation, the more you feel as though there’s a code to unlocking what it all means, and how each item relates to the others. And there is, in a way. 

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By: Dee Jefferson
2
Ramesh Mario Nithiyendran at Carriageworks
2/8

Ramesh Mario Nithiyendran at Carriageworks

It might seem like artless provocation to some, but this young artist's practice is the product of thoughtful study of – and irreverence towards – establishment values and aesthetics.

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By: Dee Jefferson
3
Megan Cope at AGNSW
Photograph: Daniel Boud
3/8

Megan Cope at AGNSW

To make this work, Quandamooka artist Megan Cope ate a lot of oysters – Sydney rock oysters, to be precise.

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By: Dee Jefferson
4
Claudia Nicholson at Carriageworks
4/8

Claudia Nicholson at Carriageworks

Colombian-born Sydney-raised artist Claudia Nicholson is known for her contemporary twist on the colourful ‘alfombra de aserrín’ (traditional South American sawdust carpet), created painstakingly over several days using sawdust, glitter and pigment – and in the case of her work at Carriageworks, fresh rose petals.

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By: Dee Jefferson
5
Emily Floyd at AGNSW
Photograph: supplied
5/8

Emily Floyd at AGNSW

You can see the results of degrees in fine arts, sociology and graphic design in the works of Emily Floyd – but even more evident than these, perhaps, is her upbringing in a family whose business was toymaking. 

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By: Dee Jefferson
6
Karla Dickens at Carriageworks
Photograph: Daniel Boud
6/8

Karla Dickens at Carriageworks

The garments of Karla Dickens’ ‘Bound’ series are beautiful from afar, slightly macabre on closer inspection, and quietly devastating once you read the accompanying poem.

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By: Dee Jefferson
7
Julie Gough at the MCA
Photograph: Felicity Jenkins
7/8

Julie Gough at the MCA

'The Gathering' is the dark heart at the centre of the Museum of Contemporary Art’s exhibition space for the National. It quietly but resolutely shows the unconscionable acts on which contemporary Australia is literally and figuratively built.

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By: Dee Jefferson
8
Yhonnie Scarce at AGNSW
Photograph: Daniel Boud
8/8

Yhonnie Scarce at AGNSW

Yhonnie Scarce’s installation looks beautiful, even magical at first glance – and then you notice the title; or maybe it’s the ‘horns’ of the formation that sets off a sense of misgiving. “I’ve noticed it has a mouth,” says the artist.

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By: Dee Jefferson

Who is where, when

Art Gallery of NSW

Dates: Mar 30-Jul 16
Line-up: Gordon Bennett; Megan Cope; Keg de Souza; Emily Floyd; Alex Gawronski; Gunybi Ganambarr; Dale Harding; Taloi Havini; Helen Johnson; Nicholas Mangan; Alex Martinis Roe; Tom Nicholson; Raquel Ormella; Khaled Sabsabi; Yhonnie Scarce; Tiger Yaltangki.
Curators: Anneke Jaspers (curator Contemporary Art) and Wayne Tunnicliffe (head curator Australian Art)

Sydney

Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA)

Dates: Mar 30-Jun 18
Line-up: Khadim Ali; Zanny Begg; Matthew Bradley; Gary Carsley; Erin Coates; Marco Fusinato; Alex Gawronski; Julie Gough; Gordon Hookey; Peter Maloney; Karen Mills; Rose Nolan; Stieg Persson; Elizabeth Pulie; Ronnie van Hout; Nell.
Curator: Blair French (director – curatorial & digital)

The Rocks
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Carriageworks

Dates: Mar 30-Jun 25, 2017
Line-up: Richard Bell; Chris Bond & Wes Thorne; Karla Dickens; Atlanta Eke & Ghenoa Gela; Heath Franco; Alex Gawronski; Agatha Gothe-Snape; Alan Griffiths; Jess Johnson & Simon Ward; Richard Lewer; Archie Moore; Claudia Nicholson; Ramesh Mario Nithiyendran; Justene Williams; Jemima Wyman
Curators: Carriageworks director Lisa Havilah and visual arts head Nina Miall.

Eveleigh

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