Impressionism to Pop Art
new displays of the permanent collection
With a radical, expanded, new look display of the collection, the National Gallery of Australia will open the refurbished International galleries, Impressionism to Pop Art, to the public on 21 November 2006. The installation includes a number of major acquisitions which will be displayed for the first time.
This display presents a panorama of international art and tells the story of modernism from the middle of the nineteenth century onwards. It demonstrates the richness of media in the National Gallery of Australia's collection — painting, sculpture, prints and drawings, photography, theatre arts and decorative arts — and places works by eight Australian artists in the context of their international peers.
Ron Radford, Director of the National Gallery of Australia, said 'The new display will provide visitors with a clearly navigable pathway through the story of modernism. Old favourites will be juxtaposed with recent acquisitions and visitors will experience new insights into the creative processes.'
'It is a display that has been designed with a view to being flexible and will therefore constantly change. For example, in the coming months the presentation will change again for the welcome return of major works such as Pierre Bonnard's Woman in front of a mirror, Rene Magritte's Lovers and Kasimir Malevich's House under construction which have been on loan in major galleries overseas.'
Impressionism to Pop dominates the entrance level of the National Gallery of Australia with each of eight room bays designed to reflect the ambience of the artist's vision and story. There are new built-in showcases and wall partitions that have been designed with a subtle texture and tone to blend with the existing concrete aggregate walls. It also includes a totally new lighting system designed by George Sexton, who also designed the lighting for the recently opened Asian galleries and other major gallery lighting systems overseas, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
Visitors for the first time will move through chronological themes displayed in separate bays that are organised around a range of art historical movements and interconnected concepts.
Impressionist paintings are juxtaposed with Art Nouveau objects. A room is devoted to Dada and Surrealism, and there is an outstanding selection of Expressionist prints, as well as the icons of Pop and the big names of Minimalism. Eventually the display will continue to the present day.
The earliest work on display is Honoré Daumier's plaster relief Refugees c.1850-52. Also in this first bay are paintings by Gustave Courbet — regarded as the first modern artist — Claude Monet and Georges Seurat. Prints by Edgar Degas, Mary Cassatt, Paul Gauguin and Paul Cezanne are also included.
Then to Fauvism and those artists associated with the School of Paris. The Russian-born Natalya Goncharova combines the bold colours of Fauvism with the popular woodcuts of her home country in her painting Peasants dancing 1910-11. Other works include a selection from Pablo Picasso's Vollard Suite 1930-37, a set of 100 intaglio prints, and Henri Matisse's dazzling papercut stencils for Jazz. In a space designed as a small 'theatre', costumes from the Gallery's extensive Ballets Russes collection are on show, including one by Goncharova for the production of Le Coq d'Or, presented for the first time.
From there visitors enter the world of Dada and Surrealism. A giant case runs through the full length of one wall, inspired by the idea of a cabinet of curiosities. The works in this case have been arranged according to a quirky map of the world published by the Surrealists in 1929. Many of the tribal works are from the Surrealist artist Max Ernst's collection and include important Baulé, Chokwe and Senufo masks and sculptures, Gope boards from Papua New Guinea and kachinas from the Native American Hopi and Zuňi peoples of Arizona and New Mexico.
The National Gallery of Australia's outstanding collection of Expressionist prints sit opposite etchings and drypoints by modern masters such as Georges Braque, Pablo Picasso and Wassily Kandinsky. Expressionism, Cubism and Constructivism suggest something of the artistic vibrancy of the opening decades of the 20th century. The surface of the Expressionist prints mirrors the very emotional content they wanted to express: rough, primitive, elemental, handmade. The display continues with one large wall devoted to photography.
Then visitors will find canvases from the area of one of the National Gallery's greatest strengths, Abstract Expressionism. As well as the iconic Jackson Pollock's Blue poles, de Kooning's Woman V and key works by Rothko, a painting by Australian artist Tony Tuckson is on show in this room.
One of the liveliest bays is devoted to Pop Art, another of the National Gallery's strengths, particularly in the area of prints, and visitors will find a room of the icons of Pop, including a major new acquisition of eight of Andy Warhol's soup cans.
The final room is devoted to Minimalism and Conceptual Art, describing radical developments within the New York art scene of the 1960s and 1970s characterised by an aesthetic of austerity, and principally identified with the work of Donald Judd, Sol LeWitt, Robert Ryman and Agnes Martin.
This room also displays for the first time the newly acquired monumental Untitled 2005 bronze by Cy Twombly, one of the most innovative living American artist of the post-war period. At 3.7 metres high, Untitled 2005 stands tall and demanding, a pale, attenuated monument of extraordinary power and subtle surface. The purchase of this sculpture was assisted by the generosity of Roslyn Packer and members of the National Gallery of Australia Foundation.
Also on display for the first time is a painting by Roy de Maistre painted in Francis Bacon's studio in about 1933. Australian artists such as James Gleeson are continually engaging with the rest of the world and the National Gallery of Australia is most grateful to James Agapitos and Ray Wilson for the loan of a key work of Surrealism by Gleeson, The attitude of lightning towards a lady mountain 1939.
This new display is at once a celebration of international art which allows the National Gallery of Australia to tell a much more complete story of the development of modern art.