Out of the Ordinary

Early artworks from ‘mid-career’ Australian and New Zealand artists who engaged with a diverse range of materials in surprising and transformative ways are on view now in the contemporary galleries of the Art Gallery of New South Wales in ‘Out of the Ordinary’.

The exhibition is drawn from pieces collected during the ‘Art & Australia Contemporary Art Award’ (2000-2015), a platform created by the magazine under the tenure of publisher and editor Eleonora Triguboff. The prize supported and promoted the practices of young artists for over a decade, which was adventurous – using the back cover of the magazine usually reserved for ‘big-advertisers’ and profiling each artist by an emerging writer. By this design the award advocated for discourse surrounding not typically commercial or underrepresented artists. As one recipient Grant Stevens confirmed, “As a young artist there are always a lot of “firsts”. Being supported and encouraged when you are experimenting with different processes, materials and ideas really helps to push your practice and open up new possibilities.” Recently the gallery welcomed the donation of the collection by Eleonora and Michael Triguboff, with some works from the now titled ARTAND Emerging Artist collection selected by curators Justin Paton and Lisa Catt for this show.

Laith McGregor, Opal, 2011 black fibre-tipped pen on tarpaulin, 289.5 x 240.5cm
Art Gallery of New South Wales Gift of ARTAND Australia, 2015. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program. © Laith Mcgregor
Photograph: Diana Panuccio, AGNSW

Each work possesses a unique voice and a dialogue exists amongst the practices from politics to concerns about our environment as well as artistic meditations. As curator Catt noted between Rebecca Baumann and Sara Hughes’ pieces we find they “both consider an expansive interpretation towards the practice of painting, using non-traditional media to prise open the history of abstraction and its explorations into chance, geometric forms and the associative power of colour.” Also within this, dare I say millennial or Gen Y school, are a group of works united by their appreciation for ritual and what unfolds slowly; from Kushana Bush’s “interest in the daily routine of the gym-goers passing by her studio; Laith McGregor finds fascination in the solitary, spiritual lifestyle of the sadhu; and Michelle Ussher turns her attention to a ‘classic’ Australian cultural practice — the campsite picnic. These intensely worked images, in pencil, gouache and pen, also seem to ruminate on the ritual of drawing itself”, describes Catt.

Sara Hughes, Torpedo, 2008, paper tags, acrylic paint, 380 x 380cm dimensions variable depending on wall size. Art Gallery of New South Wales Gift of ARTAND Australia, 2015. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program. © Sara Hughes

Contributions from artists such as Baumann, Bush, Hughes, Johnson, Jonathan Jones, McGregor, Nicholas Mangan, Rob McHaffie, Stevens and Ussher are examples of the heightened spirit of experimentation of their time as they boldly explored process, materiality and meaning. Questioning the world around us, its form and signals, is a keynote in this show, as Catt recounts “I recently chatted to Kushana Bush about her work in the exhibition… she made the rather pertinent point that out in “the real world” we are likely to pay little attention to “a Nike tick or a wrist watch” but as soon as it is placed in a gallery “we demand its concrete symbolic importance”, and to her, this potential for transformation is a really powerful thing as an artist.”

So how have the group evolved in their use of everyday materials from the early ‘noughties’ to now? Mangan, whose recent work Limits to Growth (2016-2017) was on display not long ago at the gallery is a leading example – “you can begin to appreciate the arc of his practice” says Catt “how he has moved away from the striking physicality of sculptural forms towards a more studious, research-based approach. Saying that, he still retains a keen interest in materiality and the narratives embedded within objects.”

What is extraordinary about this show is that it underscores the importance of being afforded time and space to build ideas and that a collaborative approach across sectors has a positive impact on the arts; from artist, institution to viewer.

Art Gallery of New South Wales
Until 2018
Sydney