Two new exhibitions at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia in Melbourne’s Federation Square are treasure troves for anyone interested in Australian art and history.
The complementary exhibitions – Colony: Australia 1770–1861 and Colony: Frontier Wars – explore Australia’s complex colonial history and the art that emerged during and in response to this period offering differing perspectives on the colonialisation of Australia.
Colony: Australia 1770–1861 explores the diversity of art, craft and design produced between 1770, heralding the arrival of Lieutenant James Cook on the Endeavour and 1861, the year the NGV was established.
Colony: Frontier Wars presents a response to colonisation through a range of historical and contemporary works by Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists, dating from early colonial times to the present day.
Featuring more than 600 works, it’s easy to understand why the gallery claims Colony: Australia 1770-1861 is the most comprehensive survey of Australian colonial art to date. Works have come from numerous Australian galleries and private collections.
The exhibition includes historical Aboriginal cultural objects, early watercolours, illustrated books, drawings, prints, paintings, sculpture and photographs, furniture, fashion, textiles, decorative arts and even taxidermy specimens.
Highlights from the exhibition include a ‘cabinet of curiosities’ showcasing the earliest European images of Australian flowers and animals, including the first Western image of a kangaroo and illustrations by the talented young watercolourist Sarah Stone.
Examples of early colonial cabinetmaking also feature, including the convict made and decorated Dixson chest containing natural history specimens, as well as a rarely seen panorama of Melbourne in 1841.
Tracing the development of Western art and culture, the exhibition also includes early drawings and paintings by convict artists, such as convicted forgers Thomas Watling and Joseph Lycett. There’s also the first oil painting produced in the colonies by professional artist, John Lewin, and work by the earliest professional female artists – Mary Morton Allport, Martha Berkeley and Theresa Walker.
Other highlights include landscapes by John Glover and Eugene von Guérard, and photographs by the first professional photographer in Australia, George Goodman. A set of Douglas Kilburn’s daguerreotypes, show the earliest extant photographs of Indigenous people in Victoria.
Colony: Frontier Wars addresses difficult aspects of Australia’s shared history, including dispossession and the stolen generation, through the works of Julie Gough, Brook Andrew, Maree Clarke, Ricky Maynard, Marlene Gilson, Julie Dowling, S. T. Gill, J. W. Lindt, Gordon Bennett, Arthur Boyd, Tommy McRae and Christian Thompson.
The exhibition also includes a selection of anonymous photographic portraits.
A special feature of this exhibition is an installation of women’s and men’s cultural objects, comprising four woven baskets, two carved containers, two spears, seven spear throwers, five clubs, three boomerangs, sixty-three shields and a stone axe. As the makers of these objects are unknown, museum convention would suggest the creators be credited as `unknown’. However in this exhibition the term `once known’ is used. These objects have been carefully placed to simulate a midden, in honour of their makers.
It’s the chance to see these objects together with other artworks (many of which have never before been seen in Victoria) and to learn about the different perspectives on Australia’s history, which ensures both exhibitions have much to offer.
Colony: Australia 1770–1861 is on display until 15 July 2018 while Colony: Frontier Wars is on display until 2 September 2018 at NGV Australia at Federation Square. Tickets and information are available on the NGV website.
Jenny Burns attended a media preview of the exhibitions as a guest of the National Gallery of Victoria.
- exhibitions, Melbourne, review
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