Picasso’s gone – and now, from May 12, 2012, Aussie art is back in pride of place at the AGNSW. The presentation of one of the country’s finest collections of Australian art, from colonial times to the contemporary era, has been revitalised for the gallery’s expanded collection space.
The Australian galleries have been redesigned with an increased floor area and a new lighting system, allowing more of the collection to be displayed. Like all permanent galleries and most temporary exhibitions at the Art Gallery of NSW, visitors can enjoy the art for free.
The gallery’s collection of 19th-century paintings returns to the Grand Courts, with favourite works by painters and sculptors including Tom Roberts, Arthur Streeton, Bertram Mackennal, Frederic McCubbin and Emanuel Phillips Fox.
Contemporary art is included in the Australian galleries, linking art practices across time. James Angus’s ‘Bugatti Type 35’, 2006, a recent sculpture of a 1920s car, is paired with modern painter Grace Cossington Smith’s depiction of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, painted 1928–29.
Modernism in the 1920s and ’30s is represented by paintings and photographs by Cossington Smith, Preston, de Maistre, and Max Dupain, alongside more ‘establishment’ Sydney painters Charles Meere, Herbert Badham and William Dobell. The gallery’s exceptional holdings of key mid-20th-century artists Russell Drysdale, Sidney Nolan and Ian Fairweather are displayed in depth.
For the first time in the modern Australian galleries, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art has a significant presence. The Pukumani graveposts, acquired in 1959 from the Tiwi artists of Melville Island, are exhibited alongside bark paintings by Mithinari Gurruwiwi, Wandjuk Marika and Muggurrawu Yunupingu, and the work of artists influenced by Indigenous traditions, such as Tony Tuckson.
Abstract works range from early cubist and constructivist paintings by Grace Crowley and Ralph Balson to the energy of 1960s hard-edge abstraction by Sydney Ball and Robert Rooney. Nearby, the innovations of Australian pop, conceptual and performance art in the 1960s and ’70s link to the gallery’s contemporary collection on lower level 2.
The two Archibald-winning portraits of the late Margaret Olley by William Dobell in 1948 and Ben Quilty in 2011 will be on public display nearby, side by side for the first time.