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John Power: Music and Dancing

Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (MCA)


12 Mar 1997 to 08 Aug 1997

Curator: Linda Michael

About the exhibition

Music and Dancing was a showcase of works by the MCA’s founding benefactor, J W Power.

John Joseph Wardell Power (1881-1943), was a medical graduate of the University of Sydney, an expatriate artist and collector who lived and worked in Europe until his death. He was a visionary benefactor, and bequeathed funds to the University of Sydney to establish a collection of contemporary international art for public display. These funds provided core funding for the development of the MCA. The J W Power Collection formed a core component of the MCA Collection in its early years, and continues to be managed by the MCA on behalf of the University of Sydney. The J W Power Collection features works by Australian and international artists including kinetic work from the 1960s and 1970s, Op Art, Pop Art, Minimalist works, performance pieces and more recent works from 1980s. It also includes 1,103 paintings, oil sketches and drawings by John Power himself.

As an artist, Power was part of the international avant-garde movement during the 1920s and 1930s. Trained as a surgeon, he served as a medical officer in World War One and painted his experiences of the horrors of war, the power of human endurance, and the slaughter he witnessed. The experience of operating on soldiers who were sent back to the front convinced him to reject medicine as a profession and concentrate on painting.

Power’s post-War paintings reflected the harmonious and spiritually satisfying domestic life he found himself in with his wife, Edith Mary James. The works are polished and luxuriously decorative still lives and interiors. This exhibition, however, focused on Power’s lifelong obsession with music. Many of his works expressed the intricacies and inner workings of art, music, mathematics and microbiology, his aim being to penetrate below surface appearances to the underlying ordered truth of the matter.