These joint acquisitions by MCA and Tate include two large video installations, one by Susan Norrie (Transit 2011) and another by Vernon Ah Kee (tall man 2010), two paintings by Gordon Bennett (Possession Island (Abstraction) 1991 and Number Nine 2008) and an artist book by Judy Watson consisting of sixteen etchings with chine collé (a preponderance of aboriginal blood 2005).
Three of these artworks will be on display in the MCA Collection Galleries starting this month, and two more will be included in the new MCA Collection exhibition opening in September. The artworks will then head to Tate to be displayed in the UK in the near future.
Made possible through a $2.75 million corporate gift from the Qantas Foundation, this ground-breaking collaboration is enabling an ambitious five-year joint program through which a range of major artworks by contemporary Australian artists will be acquired for the collections of MCA and Tate, owned and displayed by both institutions.
Museum of Contemporary Art Director, Elizabeth Ann Macgregor OBE, said: “We are thrilled to unveil this diverse range of joint acquisitions with Tate. This initiative is a true game-changer for contemporary Australian artists: it places their artworks in one of the world’s great public collections, where they will be seen alongside those of their international peers. It also enables us to acquire more ambitiously and strategically – transforming the opportunities for international audiences to connect with contemporary Australian art.”
“Working closely with the Tate curatorial team has been an enriching experience; there’s been a real synchronicity in our approaches,” Ms Macgregor continued.
Alan Joyce, Chief Executive Officer of Qantas, said: “In working with the MCA and the Tate we wanted to develop a program that would have a long term impact – something that could be transformative, that would promote Australian art globally and that would give Australian artists a stronger voice by helping them reach new audiences.”
“The five artworks that the MCA and Tate have chosen meet these objectives. They’re powerful, they’re unique and they tell important stories. This acquisition program provides an opportunity to grow awareness and deepen the understanding of those stories, not just in Australia but also around the world,” added Mr Joyce.
Frances Morris, Director, Tate Modern said: “I am delighted that today we are able to announce our first joint acquisitions with the MCA. Since the turn of the millennium Tate has been proactively transforming its collection, bringing in a greater variety of voices, approaches and ideas from around the world.”
“Thanks to the generous support of Qantas, this new partnership will make a real difference to the representation of Australian contemporary art at home and abroad, and it will allow us to present an even more international view of art for generations to come,” Ms Morris concluded.
Vernon Ah Kee was born in 1967 in Innisfail, Queensland and lives and works in Brisbane. Ah Kee is a member of the Kuku Yalandji, Waanji, Yidinji and Gugu Yimithirr peoples and a founding member of the Aboriginal artist collective Proppa Now. His work ranges from large-scale drawings of his family members and ancestors to text-based works and installations incorporating moving image. It fuses the history and language of colonisation with contemporary issues in an ongoing investigation of race and politics.
Vernon Ah Kee has earned a considerable international reputation. He represented Australia at the Venice Biennale in 2009 in the group exhibition Once Removed and has participated in several international biennales. His work is held in numerous public collections within Australia and overseas including the Sprengel Museum Hanover, Germany; National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa; National Gallery of Australia, Canberra and Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, Sydney.
tall man 2010 is a four channel video installation with sound, originally exhibited at Milani Gallery, Brisbane as part of the artist’s exhibition tall man in 2010. The work, which is eleven minutes and eleven seconds long, is characteristic of Ah Kee’s artistic approach in its investigation into race relations in Australia and is concerned with the Palm Island riots of 2004.
Palm Island is an Aboriginal community located on the tropical Great Palm Island, near northern Queensland, Australia. In November 2004 a young Aboriginal man, Mulrunji Doomadgee, died in in custody one hour after being detained by police. A week later, at the public reading of the results of his autopsy, a riot ensued in which the police station, local courthouse and police barracks were burnt down and police officers and staff were forced to barricade themselves into the local hospital. It was later found, in 2006, that Doomadgee had died as a result of punches to the stomach; however, the Senior Sergeant was found not guilty of manslaughter in 2007.
TALL MAN … IS ABOUT THE LIVES OF ABORIGINAL PEOPLE AND THE WAY WE SEE OURSELVES IN TIMES OF THIS KIND OF TROUBLE.
Vernon Ah Kee, 2010
In 2008, two-time local Palm Island Councillor Lex Wotton was convicted and tried of inciting the riots. He served twenty months of a seven-year sentence. There continues to be widespread opposition to his sentence and the recent ‘gag order’ issued by the High Court of Australia. Ah Kee’s exhibition and the video installation tall man are an homage to Lex Wotton, specifically to the ongoing repercussions and events that unfolded on 26 November 2004. With footage sourced from mobile phones, handheld cameras and television news reels, the work shows the events that took place on that day.
visit tall man
in the MCA Collection Online.
Gordon Bennett was born in Monto, Queensland, Australia in 1955 and graduated as a mature age student from the Queensland College of Art in 1988. His practice includes painting, printmaking, drawing, video performance, installation and sculpture. Bennett’s work challenges racial stereotypes and critically reflects on Australia’s history (official and unacknowledged) by addressing issues relating to the role of language and systems of thought in forging identity. In the context of Australian art, he freed himself from categorisation and later developed an ongoing pop art-inspired alter ego, John Citizen, allowing him the freedom to make art minus the branding that masked his earlier practice. In the late 1990s, he began a dialogue with the work of New York artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, who shared his obsession with drawing, semiotics and visual language.
Throughout his career, Bennett achieved considerable national and international recognition, with representation in numerous biennales including Documenta 13 in 2012 and the 8th Berlin Biennale in 2014. His work has been included in important international contemporary art exhibitions, is collected widely and is represented in major public art collections in Australia. He was posthumously awarded the Griffith University Arts, Education and Law Outstanding Alumnus of the Year in 2014 in recognition of his major contribution to Australian art and the nation’s cultural life.
In 2003, Bennett made a conscious decision to move away from figurative painting and experiment with making paintings about painting itself. Number Nine 2008 is representative of this significant creative shift to abstraction. In this work, Bennett focuses on visual phenomena rather than visual content, emphasising the painting as an object in its own right rather than a surface of representation. Painting in this abstract style was, for Bennett, a way of freeing himself from the constraints of the socially and politically engaged art for which he was well known and respectfully recognised in Australia and abroad.
Number Nine exemplifies Bennett’s interest in the different languages and reception of art. In conversation with Australian gallerist Bill Wright, Bennett commented on his transition from figurative paintings to abstraction: “This was a way forward for me. […] It made people aware that I am an artist first and not a professional ‘Aborigine’. I found people were always confusing me as a person with the content of my work […]. I needed to change direction, at least for a while. Art about art seems appropriate for the time being. The Stripe series of abstract paintings represents a kind of freedom for me as an artist.”
Possession Island (Abstraction) 1991 is a painting that shows Captain James Cook erecting the White Ensign to claim the eastern coast of Australia for the British Crown in 1770. Bennett directly references Samuel Calvert’s (1828–1913) etching Captain Cook Taking Possession of the Australian Continent on Behalf of the British Crown AD 1770, which is itself a copy of John Alexander Gilfillan’s (1793–1864) earlier, now lost, painting of the same title.
I HAD IN MIND TO CREATE FIELDS OF DISTURBANCE WHICH WOULD NECESSITATE RE-READING THE IMAGE, AND THE MYTHOLOGY.
This is the first of three works entitled Possession Island that Bennett painted following Australia’s bicentennial celebrations in 1988. For many Indigenous Australians, these celebrations are acknowledged as a period of mourning and a time to remember the devastating consequences of colonisation on Aboriginal people. Possession Island is a small island off the most northerly point of Queensland’s coastline near the tip of Cape York. Captain James Cook arrived there in 1770 and claimed ownership of the entire eastern coast of Australia in the name of King George III. A monument recognising this event exists at this site. It is also a symbolic reminder of the subsequent dispossession and dispersal of Indigenous Australians from their homeland by the colonisers.
Typical of Bennett’s early practice, the work is a copy of a copy of a copy. The painting appropriates an existing historical painting and deconstructs the content. The process of translation from one version to the next mimics how history is endlessly translated and transformed by the vagaries of time and by individual perspectives. Inspired by Kasimir Malevich and abstract motifs, Bennett’s intervention with the ‘Aboriginal’ subject in the work, reflects the sentiments of dispossession and memory, reclaiming the Indigenous perspective as central to the historical moment of the original painting.
visit Number Nine and
in the MCA Collection Online.
Gordon Bennett, 1955–2014, Number Nine 2008, Acrylic paint on linen, © The Estate of Gordon Bennett, Tate and the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, purchased jointly with funds provided by the Qantas Foundation 2016
Gordon Bennett, 1955–2014, Possession Island (Abstraction) 1991, oil and acrylic, paint on canvas, © The Estate of Gordon Bennett, Tate and the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, purchased jointly with funds provided by the Qantas, Foundation 2016
Susan Norrie lives and works in Sydney, using different artistic media, including painting, film, photography and installation. After studies at the National Art School and the Victorian College of Arts in Sydney in the 1970s, she established her name as a painter. Since the 1990s she has used a greater variety of media, including photography and moving imagery, often combined in installations.
Most of her work is concerned with the ambiguity of environmental, geological or socio-political issues, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region. Norrie has represented Australia at the Venice Biennale in 2007 and also participated in several international biennales. Her work is held by numerous public collections, including the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, Sydney and Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. She has been awarded a number of Australian awards and prizes.
Transit 2011 is a single channel high-definition video, originally exhibited at the 2011 Yokohama Triennale. The work is 14 minutes and 35 seconds long and represents the artist’s particular concern with the relation of humans and nature, focussing on the Asia-Pacific region. It features activities of the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) in Tanegashima, an anti-nuclear demonstration after the catastrophe of Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in March 2011, and on the Southern island of Kyushu in Japan, and an eruption of Sakurajima volcano in 2010. The project is the outcome of a long research period during which the artist collaborated with Japanese scientists, technicians, journalists and camera operators.
WHEN ONE IS DEALING WITH COLLECTIVE TRAUMA AND A SENSE OF SHAME, IT IS IMPORTANT TO IMAGINE ANOTHER POSSIBLE WORLD.
Susan Norrie, 2015
Transit is an attempt to capture the tension between humans and nature, the challenges associated with technological advancement, and the possibility of future changes for the environment and humanity due to natural or self-inflicted disasters. The work typifies Norrie’s particular film language: through long film shots, slow camera movements and harmonious compositions with black and white contrasts, the artist creates metaphoric scenes exuding a calm, almost fantastical atmosphere.
in the MCA Collection Online.
Susan Norrie, Transit 2011, single channel high-definition video, 14 minutes, 35 seconds, Number 2 in an edition of 3 (and an artist’s proof), Tate and the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, purchased jointly with funds provided by the Qantas, Foundation 2016
Susan Norrie, Transit 2011, single channel high-definition video, 14 minutes, 35, seconds, Number 2 in an edition of 3 (and an artist’s proof), Tate and the Museum, of Contemporary Art Australia, purchased jointly with funds provided by the Qantas, Foundation 2016
Judy Watson was born in 1959 in Mundubbera, Queensland, Australia. She graduated from the University of Southern Queensland in 1979, the University of Tasmania in 1982 and the Monash University in Gippsland in 1986, and currently lives and works in Brisbane. Watson’s matrilineal family is from Waanyi country in Northwest Queensland and her oeuvre – which includes painting, printmaking, drawing, sculpture and video – is inspired by Aboriginal history and culture. It is often concerned with collective memory and uses archival documents to unveil institutionalised discrimination against Aboriginal people.
Watson co-represented Australia at the Venice Biennale in 1997. Her recent solo exhibitions include the scarifier, Tarrawarra Museum of Art, Healesville (2016) and A Case Study Judy Watson, Lake Macquarie City Art Gallery, Lake Macquarie (2016). Her work was included in Artist and Empire: Facing Britain’s Imperial Past, Tate Britain, London (2015) and Indigenous Australia: Enduring Civilisation, British Museum, London (2015). Her work is held in public collections such as the National Gallery of Australia, the British Museum and the Library of Congress in Washington DC. She was the 2015 recipient of the Australia Council Visual Arts Award.
a preponderance of aboriginal blood 2005 is an artist’s book consisting of sixteen sheets: 15 etchings and the colophon. It was commissioned by the State Library of Queensland in 2005 to draw attention to the Queensland Centenary of Women’s Suffrage and Forty Years Aboriginal Suffrage.
The work presents copies of official documents from the Queensland State Archives in Australia, such as electoral enrolment statutes which classified whether a person is a ‘full-blood Aborigine’ (and therefore not entitled to vote) or a ‘half-caste’ (entitled to vote). The documents prove the official, legal discrimination against Aboriginal Australians until the 1960s. Interested in the contrast between the ‘beautiful and old fashioned’ aesthetic of the documents and their ‘horrible content’, Watson photocopied the documents onto thin paper and overlaid them with etched images, using a chine collé technique. The large-sized red drops and stains are reminiscent of quantities of blood which were used to classify Aboriginal people and symbolise their pain and deaths of many Aboriginal people as a result of colonisation – presenting a strong emotional connection between the work and the artist’s family.
I VIEW THIS MATERIAL WITH A DEEP, PERSONAL HURT FOR MY FAMILY AND FOR ALL ABORIGINAL PEOPLE.
Judy Watson, 2004
The archive as a vessel of human histories and the multi-layering of forms and contents are important concepts in Watson’s art. a preponderance of aboriginal blood exemplifies her careful concern with national history as well as personal memory. It typifies her clear visual language and delicate print making technique, multi-layering images and texts.
in the MCA Collection Online.
Judy Watson, a preponderance of aboriginal blood, 2005, artist book consisting of, sixteen etchings with chine collé, Each 420 × 305 mm (closed), 713 × 992 mm (open), AP (Edition of 5), Published by the artist and grahame galleries + editions, Brisbane, Tate and the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, purchased jointly with funds, provided by the Qantas Foundation 2016
Judy Watson, a preponderance of aboriginal blood 2005, artist book consisting of, sixteen etchings with chine collé, AP (Edition of 5), Published by the artist and grahame galleries + editions, Brisbane, Tate and the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, purchased jointly with funds provided by the Qantas Foundation 2016