“Cubism and Australian Art” @ Heide – Part II

Daniel Crooks "Portrait"Tuesday, 5 January 2010 

Dear Diary,  

[Cont. from yesterday] There is no doubt that most of the artists, whose works have been included in this show, are aware of Cubism, studied it at schools, had (or have) books on Cubism and Picasso in their libraries, or at the very least walked past the works of the period in museums and galleries, but it is a bit of a stretch – much commented upon by the exhibition visitors – to gather everything under the Cubism umbrella. 

Given the absence of works by the Cubism’s progenitors, Picasso and Braque, the exhibition just as well may have been called “Alberti and Australian Art”, as all artists rely in some way on the studies of the perspective; “Caracci and Australian Art”, as most artists would have attended some sort of an art school; or even “Ingres and Australian Art”, a number of artists in this exhibition – especially the geometric abstractionists – respect the sanctity of the line. 

In fact, the most obvious title for this exhibition (as suggested by contemporary art theorists when summing up the prevalent trends in the art of the 20th Century) would have been “Formalism and Australian Art”. In the present form, it is not so much “Cubism and Australian Art” as “Cubism, its immediate followers, and everyone else who had ever referenced Picasso, or Braque, or used a geometric shape in Australian Art.” 

While the most obvious influence of Cubism is felt in the works of Australian artists from the 1920s to 1940s – such as Crowley, Atyeo, Dyring, Syme, Wilson, and others – two more artists stood out in the exhibition by displaying the ideas and theories of Cubism in their work. Fred Williams attempted to represent the landscape from several viewing points simultaneously within his paintings; and, most unexpectedly, Daniel Crooks created most striking works, very much in the spirit of Cubism, representing the person from different vantage points within each gradation of his collaged photographic portraits. (In fact, his video installation was one of my favourite pieces of the entire exhibition.) 

Apart from the most obvious absence of works by Picasso and Braque (represented in the exhibition by their satirized and / or deconstructed versions by Kosic, Davila and Bennett), other puzzlingly noticeable absences were Tony Tuckson, who was represented in the exhibition by a Futurist work instead of one of the many paintings that directly reference Picasso; and Robert Jacks, who, instead of many of his works which feature the deconstruction of the Picasso-esque guitar, was represented in the exhibition by a geometric abstraction. 

The gripes about the title of the show – and the flimsy aesthetics which united them all – aside, I can not do otherwise but declare that the “Cubism” is still a fantastic show. It is an amazing selection of works by (predominantly) Australian artists from the 1920s to the present day. It would be difficult to imagine another recent exhibition, where so much good formalist abstraction had been assembled in the same place. 

[© Eugene Barilo v. Reisberg 2010. This article is copyright, but the full or partial use is welcome with the full and proper acknowledgment]


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Eugene Barilo v. Reisberg

January 2010


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