Making Modernism and me

Art has the power to transform, to illuminate, to educate, inspire and motivate. Harvey Fierstein

I have to confess, the majority of my favourite artists are men. Is it because there are fewer female artists or is it, as is the case with sport, that female artist have not enjoyed the same exposure as male artists or is it simply a gross carelessness on my part not to delve deeper and wider? Perhaps a combination of all three. The work of performance artist Marina Abramović, painter Margaret Ollie, sculptor Louise Joséphine Bourgeois move me. I am surrounded by female artists, many colleagues and friends are fine artists, sculptors, glass blowers, performers and I own art work by female artists. Yet, male artists seem to gain much space on gallery walls, in print and media. So I was excited, though unsure of what I would see, when I went along to the most recent exhibition at the Queensland Art Gallery. Making Modernism is a combined exhibit of works by three female artists – Margaret Preston, Georgia O’Keeffe and Grace Cossington Smith.

Preston and Cossington Smith are Australian and O’Keeffe, American. The gallery space was intimate yet displayed a generous number of works by each artist making for a unique and pleasing experience.

I felt an immediate affinity with Preston and a familiarity with her work that I realised came from having explored the same places, tended the same flowers and photographed the same bush flora she depicts in her art. I was propelled back to a childhood home that had tongue in groove walls when admiring a still life, I knew the texture of the wild flowers and banksias, and I was surprised to see a painting titled White and Red Hibiscus dated 1925. I recently discovered a white hibiscus plant, a colour so rare, even my grandmother, an avid gardener had never seen.

I felt a comfort in viewing her work.  It is immediately very Australian, not only in the subject matter but the restricted colour palette which closely resembles the colours chosen by indigenous Australian artists. Her woodcuts are absorbing, her still lifes strong and potent.

Moving into the space reserved for Cossington Smith’s work I was taken from a tryst in nature to a celebration of the urban environment. Her work is post impressionistic. Her use of colour is energetic and elicits emotion. On seeing The Curve of the Bridge and The Bridge in Building I recalled Ashley Hay’s The Body in the Clouds, a novel that explores three intertwined stories from different times on the site where the Sydney Harbour Bridge was built.

Standing back and surveying the works there are a strong reflections of Van Gogh and Cezanne in a distinctly Australian setting. The effect was transformative and surreal.

The landscapes of New Mexico, Colorado and Arizona fascinate me. I wish to explore and roam those places. A short time with Georgia O’Keeffe’s work strengthened that desire. I felt a strong connection with her,  not through a familiarity of setting as it was with Preston but sensing a shared love of and affinity with nature. O’Keeffe, like me, was pulled by nature. Her landscapes are expansive, luminous and evocative of place. Her flowers bring us in intimate closeness with nature. Having a habit of narrowing in with the camera I enjoyed Canna Leaves and Corn No 2 for the detail. I responded quite emotionally to many of her works. The flowers were pleasing, Pelvis a stark, compelling portal and Black Place, Grey and Pink caused a fleeting, wrenching despair, I felt drawn into the void.

Three distinctive styles, three incredible women, three strong artists.  This was an enriching exhibition, well worth a visit.

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Celebrating art

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It has been said that art is a tryst, for in the joy of it maker and beholder meet. ~Kojiro Tomita

Art can be celebrated any day of the week but this year my home town of Brisbane is celebrating the 10th birthday of our very own Brisbane Gallery of Modern Art – GOMA with a summer long exhibition and series of activities. I popped along to join in the fun on another day of celebration, for some, – Australia Day. 

The 10th birthday celebrations feature a whopping 250 contemporary artworks that are a true feast for the senses. There are some newly commissioned works as well as a lovely smattering of old favourites.  The intention of the exhibition is to reflect our complex connections to the natural world through the senses. My senses were pleasantly engaged and enchanted by the multi dimensional and interactive landscape artfully curated for art lovers of all ages.

Visitors are greeted by two spiralling slides that rocket the brave and childlike from the top floor to the bottom. Around the corner vivid colour strikes the eye as a landscape of synthetic hair that appears to grow from the ground reaches toward the ceiling. A sudden change of sensory input occurs when you step from the bright, well light open space of the gallery into a softly dimmed cavern containing a Heard of sculptural horses that I believe can be brought to life by dancers.

I was pleasantly surprised and no less intrigued to see Ron Mueck’s massive and life-like sculpture In bed on display again. The detail and the intimacy of the work is mesmerizing. This is one work I long to reach out and touch.

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The hugely popular installation of thousands and thousands of white Lego pieces was back.  The joy of this piece is in watching young and old sit and build fantastic structures.  It was slightly disconcerting for me to have it placed in a different spot to the first time it appeared. It was deja vu gone wrong.

Pinaree Sanpitak’s Noon-nom installation drew me. I wanted to sink into it, lounge atop the soft sculptures and enjoy the view of the river.  Having commented to the gallery staffer that it was tempting to do just that, she informed me the work was designed for relaxing on. At first glance the installation appears to be a lovely compilation of multi coloured bean bags.  The many soft sculptures actually represent breast stupas; a lovely bringing together of the human form and the spiritual. I had to giggle at myself for lounging on large breasts but marvel too at the artist’s ingenuity in capturing the nurturing form so well.

So many of the exhibits and installations provoked a mindful consideration of our being and our interactions with others and the world. Standing beneath a gigantic aluminium snake skeleton that spirals 53 metres gave me pause to reflect on how tiny we humans are yet how bold our ideas, traditions and stories can be. Tomás Saraceno’s Biospheres bought to mind soap bubbles, jelly fish, a fragile globe all at once. Another delightful yet fragile landscape was constructed by Céleste Boursier-Mougenot’s in his musical installation of live finches. I felt a world away from the hustle and bustle and was lucky enough to be the sole visitor for a while in this soothing space. Lee Mingwei’s Writing the Unspoken was a change of pace. In an intimate room with subdued lighting three small asian inspired booths offer visitors the opportunity to exchange ideas, communicate gratitude, insights and forgiveness. Visitors can write unspoken messages to be sent by the gallery, if sealed and addressed or leave a message for others to read and enjoy.  I was moved by the strength and beauty of the words people chose to leave for strangers. 

Congratulations GOMA on your 10th birthday. Congratulations to the curators for bringing together seemingly disparate pieces and creating a world of joy, contemplation and reverence.  Well done. Thank you to artists everywhere who through great talent, sacrifice and struggle bring us these works that move us, shape us and create something that lingers long after we’ve taken in the work itself.