Charles Meere, Australian Beach Pattern, 1940, Art Gallery of New South Wales, purchased 1965 © DACS 2013
THE AUSTRALIAN landscape is set to be the unifying theme of an unprecedented exhibition of Australian art to be held at the Royal Academy of Arts in London in September 2013.
Charles Saumarez Smith, Secretary and Chief Executive of the Royal Academy of Arts said most people in the UK were “historically, shamefully ignorant of Australian art”.
This exhibition will be, for everyone in this country, a great revelation,” he told the press launch in London on Thursday.
The exhibition, Australia, will present over 200 works, including paintings, drawings, photography, watercolors and multimedia, chosen from the most important public collections in Australia. It will be the first time many of the works have been seen in the UK.
HRH Prince of Wales has been revealed as Patron of the exhibition.
Kathleen Soriano, Director of Exhibits at the Royal Academy and co-curator of the exhibition, said it would be the first exhibition of Australian art at the Academy since 1923.
“It is true to say there has never been an exhibition like this before,” she said.
“This survey is long, long overdue.”
At its core is a narrative about the relationship of Australians with the land and landscape, and the shaping of our national identity through our natural and built environments.
“The visual representation of Australia has been informed by the land and landscape,” said Ms Soriano.
Spanning works from more than 200 years from 1800 to the present day, the exhibition will seek to map a period of rapid and intense change in Australia — from the impact of the first settlers through to the urbanization of the last century.
Opening with a number of works by Aboriginal artists, including Albert Namatjira and Emily Kame Kngwarreye, the exhibition will move chronologically through to the present day.
Early works include those painted by nineteenth century European immigrants such as John Glover and Eugene von Guerard, as well as the Australian Impressionists who were heavily influenced by Australian bush mythology: Arthur Streeton, Tom Roberts and Frederick McCubbin.
Many names familiar to Australians will be represented, including Brett Whiteley, Sidney Nolan and Grace Cossington Smith. Contemporary artists featured include Bill Henson and Tracey Moffat.
A full list of works will be released on the day of opening of the exhibition to the press on 17 September 2013.
Ms Soriano said this was to ensure discussion was centered around celebrating the art itself, rather than focusing on who was or was not included in the survey.
The Australian government has contributed $200,000 towards the exhibition, and $50,000 to a further programme of events which will run in London alongside the show, including screenings of indigenous films at the BFI.
Deputy High Commissioner Andrew Todd said the exhibition would be an important showcase of our rich and diverse art culture.
“No group is more persuasive than artists who, in holding up a mirror to Australian life and landscape, express so effectively who we are as a people and a nation.”
Australian artist Judy Watson has been commissioned to create a sculptural work in the courtyard of the Royal Academy.
It is based on a bowerbird’s mating structure and will replicate one of Ms Watson’s works in Canberra called Fire and Water.
Ms Watson hopes it will be a gathering place for people from different cultures as they interact with and walk through the structure.
A three part series commissioned by the BBC on Australian art will be shown in September to coincide with the exhibition. The series will be presented by former Art Gallery of NSW director Edmund Capon.
The exhibition, organized in partnership with the National Gallery of Australia, opens to the public on 21 September and will run until December.