Almanac: The Gift of Ann Lewis AO
The Drill Hall Gallery, Australian National University
Showing Thursday February 17 – Sunday April 3, curated by Glenn Barkley MCA, Sydney
The pieces are coming together at Almanac in the Drill Hall Gallery. Beyond reproach the works of Emily Kame Kngwarreye and Sally Gabori stand guard.
During 1964-83 Ann Lewis oversaw and collected works that encouraged the artists of Gallery Ain Sydney to abandon depictive art and look to European modernism. As a result, the thrust of Lewis’s collection was marked by experimentation and ‘futuristic’ ideas. Paint became the subject of art.
The black background of Kngwarreye’s The body painting series, 1996, is disturbed by large sweeping strokes of white applied with the speed and sureness of an intuitive hand. Echoing the ceremonial body paint worn by indigenous women, the work is a vehicle for cultural expression and demonstrates that paint alone can suggest the human body, flesh and its movement.
Although largely an exhibition without figures, the body is front and centre in Rosella Namok’s work. As if talking with her hands, she scratches, digs and drips paint onto the surface of Para Way, other way, 2001. The static medium of paint communicates the history of a people, laying the land, so to speak.
The next room sees the genesis of this kind of storytelling. Playing with oil for oil’s sake; with its thickness, flat pallor and hidden properties Ralph Balson’s Constructive No. 24,1953, comes alive. Balson saw a link between rigidly applied paint and our impulses.
Similarly Callum Innes thins the oil of his canvases with turpentine. He toys with the properties of paint to illustrate that its application takes precedent over a narrative or subject.
As almanacs are used to understand diverse phenomena it is no surprise that the show contains a breadth of themes. Thoughts on the environment versus man-made objects are found in the work of Rosalie Gascoigne and Janet Dawson. Ricky Swallow paints a picturesque impression of emerging technology. Themes of ceremony and chance are embedded in the work of Curley Barduguba and Robert Rauschenberg.
This outstanding private collection has been generously donated to the Museum of Contemporary Art, where it will return as a potent reminder of Sydney’s foray into abstraction and willingness to experiment.