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Australia | Royal Academy

Australia | Royal Academy

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       Australia | Royal Academy | - 1

Australia | Royal Academy | - 2

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.


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< Fiona Hall

A selection of intricate sculptures carved from sardine cans.







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   '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.


Sidney Nolan (1917-92) created a legendary series titled Ned Kelly of a bandit figure with his home-made armour and helmet, whilst he was awol from the army in the 1940s. You cannot help, but feel that Nolan placed himself as protagonist in this adventure to somehow avoid his militant calling. John Olsen's remarkable ceiling painting, Sydney Sun (1965), is also hoisted into place at the Royal Academy. Olsen became interested in mankind's dependence upon the natural world, which inspired this painting & his innovative approach to space. Simryn Gill (1959-present), who represented Australia 
at this year's Venice Biennale, is also included.


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                           Ned Kelly,1946 by Sidney Nolan


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                                               Sydney Sun, 1965 by John Olsen


The pace of the exhibition becomes irregular as it moves beyond the 1960s with works appearing as one-off statements casting focus on as many artists as can be selected. This is to the detriment of the show. It would have been more appealing to have included more works from less artists to really experience their works, but the curators of this display have opted to cram in as many artists as possible by limiting them to a single piece of art. This affects the engagement of the viewer as each artist competes intensely for your attention.


The Royal Academy have succeeded in promoting Australian art, whilst working in partnership with the National Gallery of Australia. The latter deserve great credit for bringing together works from the most important public collections in the country & transferring them to the other side of the world for us to view. The majority on show has never been put on display in the UK before. This, in itself, is reason enough to attend. However, the distinct lack of theme in the title should be amended immediately for this is a show of Australia's landscape art as opposed to a comprehensive view of australian art, which the title suggests.


Sidney Nolan famously commented that, “Australian stories are to be found in the landscape”. Take this statement forward if approaching the display....


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                Abo History Facts, 1988 by Robert Campbell Jr


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    Campbell's Wharf, 1857 by Conrad Martens                               Australian Beach Pattern, 1940 by Charles Meere


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