Posts Tagged ‘Sidney Nolan Drought Photographs

21
Dec
11

melbourne’s magnificent nine 2011

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Here’s my pick of the nine best exhibitions in Melbourne (with excursions to Bendigo and Hobart thrown in) that appeared on the Art Blart blog in 2011. Enjoy!

Marcus

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1/ Sidney Nolan: Drought Photographs at Australian Galleries, Melbourne, March 2011

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Sidney Nolan
Untitled (calf carcass in tree)
1952
archival inkjet print
23.0 cm x 23.0 cm

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This was a superb exhibition of 61 black and white photographs by Sidney Nolan. The photographs were shot using a medium format camera and are printed in square format from the original 1952 negatives.

The work itself was a joy to behold. The photographs hung together like a symphony, rising and falling, with shape emphasising aspects of form. The images flowed from one to another. The formal composition of the mummified carcasses was exemplary, the resurrected animals (a horse, for example, propped up on a fifth leg) and emaciated corpses like contemporary sculpture. The handling of the tenuous aspects of human existence in this uniquely Australian landscape wass also a joy to behold. Through an intimate understanding of how to tension the space between objects within the frame Nolan’s seemingly simple but complex photographs of the landscape are previsualised by the artist in the mind’s eye before he even puts the camera to his face.

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2/ Bill Henson at Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne, March – April 2011

This was an exquisite exhibition by one of Australia’s preeminent artists. Like Glenn Gould playing a Bach fugue, Bill Henson is grand master in the performance of narrative, structure, composition, light and atmosphere. The exhibition featured thirteen large colour photographs printed on lustre paper (twelve horizontal and one vertical) – nine figurative of adolescent females, two of crowd scenes in front of Rembrandt paintings in The Hermitage, St. Petersburg (including the stunning photograph that features ‘The return of the prodigal son’ c. 1662 in the background, see below) and two landscapes taken off the coast of Italy. What a journey this exhibition took you on!

Henson’s photographs have been said by many to be haunting but his images are more haunted than haunting. There is an indescribable element to them (be it the pain of personal suffering, the longing for release, the yearning for lost youth or an understanding of the deprecations of age), a mesmeric quality that is not easily forgotten. The photographs form a kind of afterimage that burns into your consciousness long after the exposure to the original image has ceased. Haunted or haunting they are unforgettable.

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Bill Henson
Untitled
2009/10
CL SH767 N17B
Archival inkjet pigment print
127 x 180 cm
Edition of 5

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3/ Networks (cells & silos) at Monash University Museum of Art (MUMA), Caulfield, February – April 2011

This was a vibrant and eclectic exhibition at MUMA, one of the best this year in Melbourne. The curator Geraldine Barlow gathered together some impressive, engaging works that were set off to good effect in the new gallery spaces. I spent a long and happy time wandering around the exhibition and came away visually satiated and intellectually stimulated. The exhibition explored “the connections between artistic representation of networks; patterns and structures found in nature; and the rapidly evolving field of network science, communications and human relations.”

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Installation photograph of one of the galleries in the exhibition NETWORKS (cells & silos) at the newly opened Monash University Museum of Art (MUMA) with Nick Mangan’s Colony (2005) in the foreground

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4/ Monika Tichacek, To all my relations at Karen Woodbury Gallery, Richmond, May 2011

This was a stupendous exhibition by Monika Tichacek, at Karen Woodbury Gallery. One of the highlights of the year, this was a definite must see!

The work was glorious in it’s detail, a sensual and visual delight (make sure you click on the photographs to see the close up of the work!). The riotous, bacchanalian density of the work was balanced by a lyrical intimacy, the work exploring the life cycle and our relationship to the world in gouache, pencil & watercolour. Tichacek’s vibrant pink birds, small bugs, flowers and leaves have absolutely delicious colours. The layered and overlaid compositions show complete control by the artist: mottled, blotted, bark-like wings of butterflies meld into trees in a delicate metamorphosis; insects are blurred becoming one with the structure of flowers in a controlled effusion of life.

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Monika Tichacek
To all my relations (detail)
2011

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5/ American Dreams: 20th century photography from George Eastman House at Bendigo Art Gallery, Victoria, April – July 2011

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Diane Arbus
Untitled (6)
1971

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This was a fabulous survey exhibition of the great artists of 20th century American photography, a rare chance in Australia to see such a large selection of vintage prints from some of the masters of photography. If you had a real interest in the history of photography then you hopefully saw this exhibition, showing as it is just a short hour and a half drive (or train ride) from Melbourne at Bendigo Art Gallery.

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6/ Time Machine: Sue Ford at Monash Gallery of Art, Wheelers Hill, Victoria, April – June 2011

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Sue Ford (1943–2009)
Self-portrait 1976
1976
from the series Self-portrait with camera (1960–2006)
selenium toned gelatin silver print, printed 2011
24 x 18 cm
courtesy Sue Ford Archive

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This beautifully hung exhibition flowed like music, interweaving up and down, the photographs framed in thin, black wood frames. It featured examples of Ford’s black and white fashion and street photography; a selection of work from the famous black and white Time series (being bought for their collection by the Art Gallery of New South Wales); a selection of Photographs of Women – modern prints from the Sue Ford archive that are wonderfully composed photographs with deep blacks that portray strong, independent, vulnerable, joyous women (see last four photographs below); and the most interesting work in the exhibition, the posthumous new series Self-portrait with camera (1960-2006) that evidence, through a 47 part investigation using colour prints from Polaroids, silver gelatin prints printed by the artist, prints made from original negatives and prints from scanned images where there was no negative available, a self-portrait of the artist in the process of ageing.

Whether looking down, looking toward or looking inward these fantastic photographs show a strong, independent women with a vital mind, an élan vital, a critical self-organisation and an understanding of the morphogenesis of things that will engage us for years to come. Essential looking.

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7/ The Museum of Old and New Art (MONA), Hobart, August 2011

My analogy: you are standing in the half-dark, your chest open, squeezing the beating heart with blood coursing between your fingers while the other hand is up your backside playing with your prostrate gland. I think ringmeister David Walsh would approve. My best friends analogy: a cross between a car park, night club, sex sauna and art gallery.

Weeks later I am still thinking about the wonderful immersive, sensory experience that is MONA. Peter Timms in an insightful article in Meanjin calls it a post-Google Wunderkammer, or wonder chest. It can be seen as a mirabilia – a non-historic installation designed primarily to delight, surprise and in this case shock. The body, sex, death and mortality are hot topics in the cultural arena and Walsh’s collection covers all bases. The collection and its display are variously hedonistic, voyeuristic, narcissistic, fetishistic pieces of theatre subsumed within the body of the spectacular museum architecture …

Spectatorship and their attendant erotics has MONA as a form of fetishistic cinema. It is as if what Barthes calls “the eroticism of place” were a modern equivalent of the eighteenth century genius loci, the “genius of the place.” The place is spectacular, the private collection writ large as public institution, the symbolic power of the institution masked through its edifice. The art become autonomous, cut free from its cultural associations, transnational, globalised, experienced through kinaesthetic means; the viewer meandering through the galleries, the anti-museum, as an international flaneur. Go. Experience!

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Corten Stairwell & Surrounding Artworks
February 2011
Museum of Old and New Art – interior
Photo credit: MONA/Leigh Carmichael
Image Courtesy of MONA Museum of Old and New Art

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8/ John Bodin: Rite of Passage at Anita Traverso Gallery, Richmond, August – September 2011

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John Bodin
I Was Far Away From Home
2009
Type C print on metallic paper
80 x 110cm

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The photographs become the surface of the body, stitched together with lines, markers pointing the way – they are encounters with the things that we see before us but also the things that we carry inside of us. It is the interchange between these two things, how one modulates and informs the other. It is this engagement that holds our attention: the dappled light, ambiguity, unevenness, the winding path that floats and bobs before our eyes looking back at us, as we observe and are observed by the body of these landscapes.

One of the fundamental qualities of the photographs is that they escape our attempts to rationalize them and make them part of our understanding of the world, to quantify our existence in terms of materiality. I have an intimate feeling with regard to these sites of engagement. They are both once familiar and unfamiliar to us; they possess a sense of nowhereness. A sense of groundlessness and groundedness. A collapsing of near and far, looking down, looking along, a collapsing of the constructed world.

Like the road in these photographs there is no self just an infinite time that has no beginning and no end. The time before my birth, the time after my death. We are just in the world, just being somewhere. Life is just a temporary structure on the road from order to disorder. “The road is life,” writes Jack Kerouac in On the Road.

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9/ Juan Davila: The Moral Meaning of Wilderness at the Monash University Museum of Art (MUMA), Caulfield, August – October 2011

Simply put, this was one of the best exhibitions I saw in Melbourne this year.

I had a spiritual experience with this work for the paintings promote in the human a state of grace. The non-material, the unconceptualizable, things which are outside all possibility of time and space are made visible. This happens very rarely but when it does you remember, eternally, the time and space of occurrence. I hope you had the same experience.

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Juan Davila
Wilderness
2010
© Juan Davila, Courtesy Kalli Rolfe Contemporary Art

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10/ In camera and in public at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne, September – October 2011

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Kohei Yoshiyuki
Untitled
1971
From the series The Park
Gelatin Silver Print
© Kohei Yoshiyuki, Courtesy Yossi Milo Gallery, New York

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Curated by Naomi Cass as part of the Melbourne Festival, this was a brilliant exhibition at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne. The exhibition explored, “the fraught relationship between the camera and the subject: where the image is stolen, candid or where the unspoken contract between photographer and subject is broken in some way – sometimes to make art, sometimes to do something malevolent.” It examined the promiscuity of gazes in public/private space specifically looking at surveillance, voyeurism, desire, scopophilia, secret photography and self-reflexivity. It investigated the camera and its moral and physical relationship to the unsuspecting subject.

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11/ The Mad Square: Modernity in German Art 1910 – 37 at The National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, November 2011 – March 2012

This is one of the best exhibitions this year in Melbourne bar none. Edgy and eclectic the work resonates with the viewer in these days of uncertainty: THIS should have been the Winter Masterpieces exhibition!

The title of the exhibition, The mad square (Der tolle Platz) is taken from Felix Nussbaum’s 1931 painting of the same name where “the ‘mad square’ is both a physical place – the city, represented in so many works in the exhibition, and a reference to the state of turbulence and tension that characterises the period.” The exhibition showcases how artists responded to modern life in Germany in the interwar years, years that were full of murder and mayhem, putsch, revolution, rampant inflation, starvation, the Great Depression and the rise of National Socialism. Portrayed is the dystopian, dark side of modernity (where people are the victims of a morally bankrupt society) as opposed to the utopian avant-garde (the prosperous, the wealthy), where new alliances emerge between art and politics, technology and the mass media. Featuring furniture, decorative arts, painting, sculpture, collage and photography in the sections World War 1 and the Revolution, Dada, Bauhaus, Constructivism and the Machine Aesthetic, Metropolis, New Objectivity and Power and Degenerate Art, it is the collages and photographs that are the strongest elements of the exhibition, particularly the photographs. What a joy they are to see.

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Albert Renger-Patzsch
Harbour with crane
c.1927
gelatin silver photograph
printed image 22.7 h x 16.8 w cm
Purchased 1983

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20
Mar
11

Review: ‘Sidney Nolan: Drought Photographs’ at Australian Galleries, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 3rd March – 27th March 2011

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“In the meantime the landscape presents scenes of desolation which mark the memory of all who see it. Thousands of carcasses are strewn on the baked and cracked plains. There is a brooding air of almost Biblical intensity over millions of acres which bear no trace of surface waters. The dry astringent air extracts every drop of moisture from the grass, leaving it so brittle that it breaks under foot with the tinkling of thin glass.”

Sidney Nolan. Epic Drought in Australia 1952

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“Peering into the pantry, which held a particular fascination for me, my eye was caught by several jars of preserved fruit that stood on the otherwise empty shelves and by a few dozen diminutive crimson apples on the sill of the window darkened by the yew tree outside. And as I looked on these apples which shone through the half-light … the quite outlandish thought crossed my mind that these things … had all outlasted me …”

W.G. Sebald. The Rings of Saturn 1988

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This is a superb exhibition of 61 black and white photographs by Sidney Nolan. The photographs were shot using a medium format camera and are printed in square format from the original 1952 negatives. They were taken near the Birdsville Track in Queensland and were commissioned at the time by the Brisbane newspaper The Courier Mail. Although not intended to be studies for the later ‘Drought paintings’ they have become, were the beginning of, can be seen as, preparatory ideas pre sketching and painting.

There are two proof sets of the ‘Drought Photographs’ (including the one displayed on the gallery wall) that are printed on a cool-toned Type C photographic paper (analogue to digital to analogue) at about 8″ square. These are the less successful of the prints for the “beauty is in the box.” The more impressive prints are the edition of 10 that is for sale, either as individual prints or as a whole folio, that are printed at approximately 10″ square on a slightly warm-toned Canson Infinity 310 gsm archival inkjet paper (analogue to digital). These are the knockout prints with lots of mid-toned hues – for the warm tone of the paper more closely matches the feel of the dusty Outback. They possess a very “inky” atmosphere and wonderful light. Make sure that you get the gallery staff to show you some of these prints!

The work itself is a joy to behold. The photographs hang together like a symphony, rising and falling, with shape emphasising aspects of form. The images flow from one to another. The formal composition of the mummified carcasses is exemplary, the resurrected animals (a horse, for example, propped up on a fifth leg) and emaciated corpses like contemporary sculpture. Here I am reminded of some of the work of Henry Moore.

The handling of the tenuous aspects of human existence in this uniquely Australian landscape is also a joy to behold. Through an intimate understanding of how to tension the space between objects within the frame Nolan’s seemingly simple but complex photographs of the landscape are previsualised by the artist in the mind’s eye before he even puts the camera to his face. Unfortunately I don’t have any photographs to show you of these works but for me they were one of the highlights of the exhibition, rivalling any of the work of the Farm Security Administration (FSA) photographers photographing in the American Dustbowl during the 1930s. Finally, some great Australian landscape photographs!!

As the curator Damian Smith notes of both strands, “Throughout the series emphasis shifts from detached observation to intimate contemplation – between the forces of the outer landscape to the darkness of the animals’ inner being.”

I would not say the landscapes are ‘detached observation’. Both forms require intimate contemplation.

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Let us investigate the presence of these images further.

“Barthes mentions the apparently “universal” experiences of birth and death, experiences that, he points out, are in fact always mediated by historical and thus political circumstances. Echoing a famous remark by Bertolt Brecht, he contends that “the failure of photography seems to me to be flagrant in this connection: to reproduce death or birth tells us, literally, nothing.”“1

“To reproduce death or birth tells us, literally, nothing.” Hence, you could argue, through an appeal to nostalgia for a mythology of the Australian bush we are held at the surface of an identity. Drought, desolation, despair, death. But these photographs go beyond the reproduction of death, go beyond mere nostalgia, by pushing the prick of consciousness, Barthes punctum, into a sense of spatial immediacy and temporal anteriority – an experience Barthes “sums up as the “having-been-there” that is the basis of every photograph’s sense of witness.”2

The new punctum becomes other than the detail – no longer of form but of intensity, of Time: conjuring past, present and future in a single image.3 We, the viewer, bring our own associations to the image, our knowledge of drought in this big land – the knowledge that this drought has happened, it did happen and it will happen again and again and again in the future, probably with more frequency than it does now. The photograph becomes an active, mental representation of the material world. It becomes the world’s ‘essence’.

The photographs stand for something else, some other state of being, much as this work can be seen as one small aspect of Nolan’s art that stands for the whole – a close examination of a small part of something that represents the whole, like a sail represents a yacht, a metonymic resonance. They tell us something through time, of life and death. As the great author W. G. Sebald eloquently observes in his quotation at the top of this posting these things outlast us – in our imagination.

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Many thankx to Ingrid Oosterhuis (General Manager Melbourne) for her help and to Australian Galleries for allowing me to publish the text and the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

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Sidney Nolan
‘Untitled (desiccated horse carcass sitting up)’
1952
archival inkjet print
23.0 cm x 23.0 cm

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Sidney Nolan
‘Untitled (calf carcass in tree)’
1952
archival inkjet print
23.0 cm x 23.0 cm

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“In 1952 Sidney Nolan was commissioned by the Brisbane newspaper The Courier Mail to travel through far northern Queensland to record his impressions of one of the worst droughts in Australia’s history. Throughout this journey Nolan took numerous black and white photographs using a medium format camera, resulting in a host of startling and memorable images. Focusing on both the macabre spectre of the many animal carcasses strewn across the landscape and on the singular dwellings announcing a tenuous human presence, Nolan created numerous iconic images.

Having returned to Australia after an extended period traveling in Europe, Nolan commented that the animal carcasses reminded him of the petrified bodies he had seen at Pompeii. Throughout the series emphasis shifts from detached observation to intimate contemplation – between the forces of the outer landscape to the darkness of the animals’ inner being. With their carefully composed compositions the photographs represent a dramatic shift from the artist’s earlier photographic experiments. In place of a prior spontaneity, drought-stricken animal carcases are framed in formally rigorous compositions, the moment seemingly trapped in time.

For the first time this exhibition includes the complete and unabridged series of Sidney Nolan’s Drought Photographs, including images previously unavailable for public exhibition.”

Damian Smith
Archivist for the Nolan Estate 1996-99

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Sidney Nolan
‘Untitled (camp bed)’
1952
archival inkjet print
23.0 cm x 23.0 cm

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Epic Drought in Australia

“Australia has not a very long history, but it is long enough to indicate that she must expect a major drought once every decade. Even so the present drought which the north and west of the continent is enduring, is by far the worst in living memory.

Rivers which have not been dry for over a century are now beds of hot sand, and even the aborigines can find no parallel in their mythology for a drought of this magnitude.

To cattle raising areas, failure of the annual monsoonal rains spells near tragedy. Of a total of 11.4 million beef cattle 1.5million have already perished.

The position is complicated by the lack of a railway connecting the North-centre of Australia with the eastern seaboard. Had such a railway been in existence many thousands of cattle could have been shifted to agistment areas and saved. As it is, the cattle must survive journeys from 500 to 1500 miles on stock routes, and this is generally impossible owing to the weakened positions of the animals. Thus cattle men must face the prospect of watching their herds dwindle until at least the end of the year when there is the probability of early summer storms bringing relief.

In the meantime the landscape presents scenes of desolation which mark the memory of all who see it. Thousands of carcasses are strewn on the baked and cracked plains. There is a brooding air of almost Biblical intensity over millions of acres which bear no trace of surface waters. The dry astringent air extracts every drop of moisture from the grass, leaving it so brittle that it breaks under foot with the tinkling of thin glass.

Death takes on a curiously abstract patter under these arid conditions. Carcasses of animals are preserved in strange shapes which have often a kind of beauty, or even grim elegance.

Over the whole country there is a silence in which men and animals bring forth the qualities necessary for survival. Patience, endurance – and for many Australians, a bitter and salty attitude of irony.”

Sidney Nolan, August 1952

Text from the Australian Galleries website

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Sidney Nolan
‘Untitled (cow in tree)’
1952
archival inkjet print
23.0 cm x 23.0 cm

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Sidney Nolan
‘Untitled (Brian the stockman mounting dead horse)’
1952
archival inkjet print
23.0 cm x 23.0 cm

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“Australian Galleries is delighted to present this fascinating exhibition of selected photographs by Sidney Nolan curated by Damian Smith, Archivist for the Nolan Estate 1996-99.

Smith states in the accompanying exhibition catalogue:

“In 1952 Sidney Nolan was commissioned by the Brisbane newspaper The Courier Mail to travel through far northern Queensland to record his impressions of one of the worst droughts in Australia’s history. Throughout this journey Nolan took numerous black and white photographs using a medium format camera, resulting in a host of startling and memorable images. Focusing on both the macabre spectre of the many animal carcasses strewn across the landscape and on the singular dwellings announcing a tenuous human presence, Nolan created numerous iconic images. This exhibition includes the complete and unabridged series of Sidney Nolan’s Drought Photographs, including images previously unavailable for public exhibition.”

In his 1952 essay Epic Drought in Australia Sidney Nolan remarked on the poignancy of the images, noting the following:

“Death takes on a curiously abstract patter under these arid conditions. Carcasses of animals are preserved in strange shapes which have often a kind of beauty, or even grim elegance.”

To coincide with the exhibition Drought Photographs, Australian Galleries will be showing a selection of Drought Drawings by Sidney Nolan that include works previously exhibited at the National Gallery of Victoria, in it’s landmark survey of Nolan’s work Desert Drought in 2003.”

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Sidney Nolan Drought Photographs Curated by Damian Smith

“In 2010 Damian Smith established Words For Art, a consultancy specialising in art writing and curatorial projects.

Damian has always had a strong interest in Nolan’s work, he was appointed the inaugural archivist for the estate of Sidney Nolan in 1996. Since that time he has curated numerous Nolan exhibitions including a major exhibition, Unmasked: Sidney Nolan and Ned Kelly 1950-1990 for the Heide Museum of Modern Art in 2006.

Building up to the Heide exhibition, Damian was based at Sidney Nolan’s home ‘The Rodd’ at Herefordshire, a 16th Century manor on the border of England and Wales. During that research period he developed an interest in Nolan’s life-long engagement with photography. He discovered vintage prints of Nolan’s photographs of outback Australia and the devastating drought in far northern Queensland, which were included in the landmark survey Sidney Nolan: Desert and Drought, at the National Gallery of Victoria in 2003. The exhibition included previously unseen photographic images from 1949 to 1952.

In the NGV exhibition, numerous small-scale contact prints showing Nolan’s ‘Drought animals’ were featured, as were larger black and white prints from the same series. Additional small-scale prints were sourced as well through Nolan’s step-daughter Jinx Nolan. Of note was Nolan’s now famous Untitled (Brian the stockman mounting a dead horse at Wave Hill Station), 1952, a startling image that first featured in the 1961 Thames & Hudson monograph Sidney Nolan, where it appeared titled Desert.

Having researched and written about these images, Damian recognised that Nolan had spent many hours studying the images, notating them and ultimately using them in the development of his now famous Drought paintings. Nolan offered the photographs to Life Magazine, New York in a bid to bring this extraordinary series to public attention. This bid was unsuccessful.

After all of the years since these photographs were taken, Damian made the decision to resurrect Nolan’s photographs working closely with Sidney Nolan’s widow Mary Nolan, nee Boyd. The result being this exhibition at Australian Galleries, Melbourne in 2011.

Keen to preserve the artist’s vision, the photographs have been produced to a scale consistent with the vintage prints and all are printed from the original negatives which were discovered at ‘The Rodd’.”

Text from Australian Galleries Melbourne

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Sidney Nolan
‘Untitled (cow carcass and cow skull)’
1952
archival inkjet print
23.0 cm x 23.0 cm

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Sidney Nolan
‘Untitled (cow and calf carcass covered in dirt I)’
1952
archival inkjet print
23.0 cm x 23.0 cm

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1. Batchen, Geoffrey. “Palinode: An Introduction to Photography Degree Zero,” in Batchen, Geoffrey (ed.,). Photography Degree Zero: Reflections on Roland Barthes’s Camera Lucida. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2009, p.6.

2. Ibid., pp.8-9.

3. Ibid., p.13.

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Australian Galleries Smith Street
50 Smith Street, Collingwood VIC 3066

Opening hours:
Monday – Saturday 10am – 6pm
Sunday 12 noon – 5pm

Australian Galleries website

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Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Études’ 1994

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes the Art Blart blog which reviews exhibitions in Melbourne, Australia and posts exhibitions from around the world. He has a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne and is currently studying a Master of Art Curatorship at The University of Melbourne.

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