Published on May 21st, 2023 | by Tim Chuma
Australiana: Designing a Nation Review
Summary: I wouldn't go out of your way to see it but if you are close by or have something else on and want to spend a couple of hours. Will be better to go see once the Australian Women’s Weekly exhibition opens in a week or so.
If you are in the area
Bendigo Art Gallery, 18 March 2023 – 25 June 2023
FREE ENTRY, 10am to 5pm daily
After missing the Elvis exhibition as I could not find anyone to go with and also you had to book a time to see it I decided that I would go myself to this on the weekend when I could find a spare weekend without anything on. I still ended up missing stuff but did not mind as I am busy coming up. Also it was suggested I go up and stay the weekend to save the trip on the train both ways in a day.
I ended up staying at an Airbnb close by and went to something at the Golden Vine Hotel on the Friday night giving me all Saturday to go through the exhibition if I wanted to and go see some other stuff around town. I had not been to Bendigo since 1989 when I visited with the Train of Knowledge school camp.
Although I went into the exhibition with an open mind a lot of what I saw was pretty familiar to me as a lot of the earlier pieces in the collection seem to be straight from NGV Australia in Melbourne or earlier in their original home at the main National Gallery of Victoria collection and I knew most of the artists already. It was pretty much who I expected was going to be in the exhibition like the early landscape painters, the Australian impressionists and some of the usual surrealist painters.
There was an effort made to include some women artists but I already knew who they were going to be also. Grace Cossington-Smith’s The Bridge in Curve is pretty much the most obvious thing that they could have included in the exhibition.
Some of the things in the exhibition did not really work well with other parts of it like having a bunch of Max Dupain photos in the middle of a bunch of paintings and then they realised this wouldn’t work with the Rennie Ellis photos so they gave his work its own room and video wall of a slideshow set to music.
The 1980s stuff seemed to stand out like the dog’s proverbial compared to the rest of the exhibition. I would have liked to see a retrospective just of Jenny Kee and some of the lesser-known designers. For fair play they should have shown TISM’s expensive parody of Ken Done alongside his work. It is true that more commercial stuff does not get the acknowledgement that the more artistic stuff gets but also the people who do it actually make money off their own work.
As a treat the 100 Ice-creams work by Kenny Pittock, commissioned for this exhibition is right at the end of the exhibition for you to enjoy.
There was some indigenous representation but it did feel a bit like it was tacked-on and not in the centre of the exhibition. There is some mention of the “Australiana” fads of the 1950s and early 1900s but some of that would be insensitive to show these days. I can remember an indigenous artist who collects it all for their artworks but not right now.
I did like Vincent Namatjira’s The Royal Tour artwork and the video piece next to it. Nothing about the music and performance by indigenous people though?
This will be better to go see once the Australian Women’s Weekly exhibition opens in the other gallery space on the 27th of May as the two will complement each other. I did not get to any of the other related events around the area for the “Fair Dinkum Bendigo” season but this would work better if you had something else you wanted to go see in the city later in the day or where in the area.