‘First Commissions’ | Artists reimagine Michelangelo’s David

‘First Commissions’ is a global project that brings together more than 100 emerging artists across three sites on two continents to present 30 unique responses, giving new life to the themes that inspired history’s great works from Frida Kahlo’s Self-Portrait with Monkeys to Tchaikovsky’s The Sleeping Beauty.

Commencing in Florence on 4 July at the Accademia Di Belle Arti Di Firenze, ‘First Commissions’ will culminate in an expansive exhibition of work by all 30 artists on 27 and 28 July at the University of Melbourne’s newly transformed Southbank campus.

Five Australian artists reimagine Michelangelo’s David as part of major Australian arts project. University of Melbourne

Without knowing what the original briefs related to, the artists have created contemporary works that cast a range of urgent global issues in a stark new light, from feminism through to climate change, grief and loss.

Five young Australian artists, including Melbourne visual artist Esther Stewart and Australian Indigenous artist Ashley Perry, have interpreted a brief inspired by the commission for Michelangelo’s David, an embodiment of Renaissance perfection. They have created works that collectively pose the question: how far have we really come in our understanding of physical perfection?

Beyond visual art, the commission inspired by David has also been interpreted by artists working in other disciplines including choreographer and dancer Jack Riley, interactive composer Samuel Kreusler and classical composer Danna Yun. Despite their unique personal histories, perspectives and disciplines, the artists reveal a generation who collectively refuse to subscribe to the homogeny of perfection.

University of Melbourne Vice-Chancellor Professor Duncan Maskell said the ‘First Commissions’ project takes a fresh perspective on historical commissions to transform timeless social themes into contemporary art and different formats.

‘The University of Melbourne believes art can challenge how people feel and see the world. As our world becomes increasingly automated, our creative artists and musicians can work together to solve problems and meet the challenges that we face in society.

‘A fine arts and music education is transformative, encourages confidence and a strong sense of self-belief. It gives students the courage to think independently and critically. It fosters collaboration and creative risk-taking, passion, determination and resilience,’ Professor Maskell said.

A juxtaposition of old and new, the exhibition highlights the importance of global institutions of academic excellence such as the Galleria dell’ Accademia; Accademia Di Belle Arti Di Firenze and the University of Melbourne to creatively challenge boundaries and create thought-provoking experiences that move others.

From Perry’s examination of the role of digital algorithms in perpetuating singular views of perfection, through to Stewart’s work which highlights the one-size-fits-all form of architectural structures – the artists highlight society’s constraining idea of what perfection is and how we should be striving for it.

Similarly, Riley and Kreusler separately argue for the recognition of beauty found in imperfection. The former’s choreographed dance embraces the beauty found in grotesque gestures and the vulnerability of the human body, while the latter’s intentionally ‘broken’ guitar becomes the source of a series of affecting and playful sounds – reminding viewers of the beauty that exists within our own, individual flaws.