Capturing the art of an entire Continent in a single exhibition is an enormous task, which can lead us to momentous applause, or grave ridicule. The curator's of the Royal Academy's autumn display attempt to walk the tightrope of success, or defeat whilst presenting their exhibition titled 'Australia'.
Australia itself conjures up vivid images of stunning landscape soaked in sunshine & the sparse never-ending wilderness known as the outback. A place of wonder where native animals raise further curiosities, which can only be fulfilled by a visit to the land. There does of course remain another side to its past, which evokes a sense of outrage for the infringement of indigenous people known as aborigines, who were slaughtered at the hands of western settlers following their arrival in the 18th century.
This show plays safe as it strays away from such atrocity focusing on the art as opposed to the country's history, but becomes a survey of Australian landscape rather than its art as a whole. More figurative forms including portraiture are missing from the display as the landscape takes centre stage. The result is 200 paintings spanning more than 200 years from 1800 to the present day. Australia has a strong visual arts tradition & the exhibition shows this well with the inclusion of paintings, drawings, photography, watercolours and multimedia. There are also examples of contemporary sculpture in the form of Fiona Hall's intricately cut sardine cans, which are moulded to form exotic plants, worthy of seeking out.
< Fiona Hall
A selection of intricate sculptures carved from sardine cans.
'Big Yam Dreaming' by Emily Kame Kngwarreye (1910-96)
Aboriginal paintings fill the first room of the show from the present, not the distant past. Artists featured include Albert Namatjira (1902-59), Rover Thomas (1926-98), and Emily Kame Kngwarreye (1910-96) who delivers 'Big Yam Dreaming' painted when the artist was 85 years old. Work painted on bark with earth pigments are included before moving onto board and canvas using acrylics, which were not introduced to the aborigines until the 1970s. This stands to comment on how aboriginal arts have adopted techniques & materials from the modern world, which has resulted in weakening their own traditions.
The show continues in a chronological manner, which enables its viewer to witness the development of landscape art. This proves to be a good choice by the curator's as you travel through time surrounded by visions of the scenery of different eras.