From the urgency of the Black Lives Matter movement to the sweeping impact of the COVID-19 global pandemic, 2020 has undoubtedly been a year of extremes. At times like these, we are reminded of art’s unique capacity to comfort, connect us to each other and provide a vehicle for confronting injustice. Recently our curators selected a series of works from your State Collection that capture different experiences of COVID-19 as well as foregrounding narratives about racism and Australia’s own complex history.
Works by artists including Willy Lenski, FriendsWithYou, Atelier van Lieshout, Robyn O’Neil, Reko Rennie and Tony Albert invite reflection on the fragility and uncertainty of life: its ambiguities, cycles, warmth and connections. Explore how these works resonate with your own recent experiences in this selection from the AGWA Contemporary gallery.
FriendsWithYou Little cloud 2013. Vacuum-formed acrylic, 76.2 x 60.9 x 48.3 cm. State Art Collection, Art Gallery of Western Australia. Purchased through the Art Gallery of Western Australia Foundation: TomorrowFund, 2014.
We view the cloud emblem as an enduring symbol of love and light. It has the power to transcend the viewer to a relaxed and joyous state, revealing that everything in our world has a soul and a purpose—a spiritual essence. This animist perspective reflects in our work as a sweet visual soundscape, casting a positive message of happiness and connectivity.
Reko (Gwaybilla) Rennie Message sticks 2009. Spray paint and synthetic polymer paint on linen, 198 x 85 cm each (6 panels in total). State Art Collection, Art Gallery of Western Australia. Purchased through the TomorrowFund, Art Gallery of Western Australia Foundation, 2010.
Reko Rennie's Message sticks presents rows and rows of spray cans as a reflection on the the new and old ways that Aboriginal people have communicated across the millennia. Each spray can is imprinted with a traditional Kamilaroi linear shield design, symbolising a continuum of tradition and culture. From his early career as a graffiti artist to now, Reko Rennie has explored how issues around identity, social justice and a sense of place can be expressed through art.
Viviane Sassen Ivy 2010. C-type print/dark frame ed 4/8, 125 x 100 cm. State Art Collection, Art Gallery of Western Australia. Purchased through the Art Gallery of Western Australia Foundation: TomorrowFund, 2012.
Viviane Sassen’s series Parasomnia references a sleep disorder characterised by sleepwalking, and thus existing in a state between dream and reality. Shot in deliberately unidentified locations in Africa, the series was her way of processing complex childhood memories of the continent where she lived as a young child. While for her working within the conceptual framework of parasomnia is a way to understand her personal connection to Africa, her work carries an incredible stillness created between the real and the surreal.
Willy Lenski Life may be seen as a gesture 1987. Oil and synthetic polymer paint on jute, 50.9 x 92.2 cm. State Art Collection, Art Gallery of Western Australia. Purchased 1988.
This work by American painter Willy Lenski, Life may be seen as a gesture, depicts the dance of life. A dance celebrating survival after a plague, a return to cycles of living and life as it was before. Completed in 1987, this work reflected on the AIDS epidemic where fear kept the community divided, but human connection kept it together. This work has shades of light and dark, a shared moment of sadness and joy. We grieve what we have lost but celebrate moving forward together.
AGWA Contemporary installation view, 2020. Atelier van Lieshout Sensory deprivation skull 2007. Reinforced fibreglass, 150 x 110 x 137 cm. State Art Collection, Art Gallery of Western Australia. Purchased 2008.
Made by the Dutch-based designer Joep van Lieshout for his anarchic free state AVL-Ville in Rotterdam, this contemporary memento mori doubles as a refuge from the business of modern life, a haven for introverts, a cosy and sensual space for one.
Robyn O'Neil Crowd scene 1 2014. Graphite and oil pastel on paper, 31.2 x 36.8 cm. State Art Collection, Art Gallery of Western Australia. Purchased through the Art Gallery of Western Australia Foundation: TomorrowFund, 2014.
Robyn O’Neil’s exquisitely perfect and large graphite drawings usually depict turbulent landscapes with a lonely figure or several disconnected ones. Using coloured oil pastels and squeezing her people together on a small picture plane, O’Neil thought she was setting herself up for failure—deliberately—as a means of pushing through a creative rut. During the time the Gallery was shut to the public, it was this work that I would think of and crave to share the most.
Tony Albert “MISUNDERSTANDING” 2020. Acrylic spray paint on vintage velvet painting, 36 x 26 cm. State Art Collection, Art Gallery of Western Australia. Purchased 2020. © Tony Albert. Image courtesy Sullivan+Strumpf.
Through his practice and collection of Aboriginalia—featuring the voiceless and the nameless—Tony Albert reveals the many voices and stories behind the objects, and reinforces that the conversations and connections they involve will always be complex and nuanced, time after time.
“MISUNDERSTANDING” responds to the devastating detonation of explosives by mining giant Rio Tinto in May this year, which destroyed two sacred rock caves at Juukan Gorge, north-west of Tom Price in the Pilbara, which dated back more than 46,000 years. Albert’s velvet series draws on his collection of Aboriginalia: domestic and tourist artefacts that include images of Aboriginal people, their cultural objects and designs.
See these works and more in this recent rehang of our AGWA Contemporary gallery and Concourse space. With certain works including Reko Rennie's Message sticks on display for a just a few more weeks, don't miss out on seeing this thought-provoking selection in person this month.