Australia at the Royal Academy of Arts
Like the continent it’s named after, this exhibition is expansive. There is a staggering amount of content on display: over 200 pieces spanning a chronology of over 200 years, and featuring almost 150 artists. The exhibition is broken into 13 different sections from indigenous paintings, through colonial periods, right up to the modern day. The art is on loan from important public collections and most of it has never been put on display in the UK before.
Two prominent themes running throughout the exhibition are landscapes and patterns. The patterns assert themselves early on in the first room with the indigenous art. There are some impressive bark and pigment paintings that look almost fractal in the amount of detail present. These are not small pieces either, they are several feet in any direction sometimes – not an easily dismissible display of perseverance, if nothing else. These same sorts of patterns return sporadically throughout the phases of the exhibition, resurfacing most prominently in the more contemporary periods, in works such as Dorothy Napangardi’s Sandhills of Mina Mina (2000).
If you’ve ever run across any kind of description or marketing of Australia as a place, you’ve probably heard, more than anything else, about geography. To be fair, there is quite a lot of it. It’s there in the art, too. There are a lot of landscapes in this exhibition, starting at the early colonial period and only really abating when you get to the early modernist displays. The way the individual periods handle landscape is interesting – most notably the presence or lack of life in the scenes. Landscapes never go away as a subject, but by they certainly aren’t as prevalent in the later parts of the exhibition.
Even if you only have a passing interest in Australian art, take a look at Australia. Be prepared to set aside a good chunk of time to soak it all in –there is a lot of art in a lot of mediums on display. The show is not something you can cruise through: it’s pretty dense, but due to its scope, unless you’re only looking for the utterly outlandish, there’s something for everyone. It’s all there – Australia is impressive, to say the least.
Photos: Andrei Grosu
Australia is at the Royal Academy of Arts from 21st September until 8th December 2013. For further information or to book visit the gallery’s website here.