Art Gallery of New South Wales 2015 program through many lenses

From the beginnings of photography to insightful juxtapositions between historic and contemporary art, the Art Gallery of New South Wales offers a diverse and engaging 2015 program.
Art Gallery of New South Wales 2015 program through many lenses

Rodney Glick, Made Leno, Wayan Darmadi, Dewa Tirtayasa, Christopher Hill, Everyone no 83 2009

With the Pop to popism exhibition entering its final month, Sydney’s Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW) announces what's next for 2015.

Photography is a central theme this year with a survey of the medium opening 21 March. The photograph and Australia contains over 400 works by more than 120 artists, and will be the largest show of Australian photography since 1988.


Curated by Judy Annear, AGNSW’s photography curator, the exhibition will address the changing nature of the medium from its origins in the 1840s to today.

Annear will take a thematic rather than chronological approach and a broad array of material will be included such as photographs by unknown photographers and everyday material like domestic albums and postcards. In doing so the exhibition hopes to tease out individual stories – for example, illustrating how and where people lived – as well as presenting the public narratives of Australia’s history.

The artist list is extensive – featuring national icons Harold Cazneaux, Max Dupain and Olive Cotton. There will also be historical photographers such as Charles Bayliss and George Goodman (Australia’s first professional photographer). Supplementing the historical works are those by key contemporary artists including Simryn Gill and Tracey Moffatt.

One surprising inclusion is the investigation into photography’s role in science and astronomy. These photographs (such as early x-rays) will demonstrate the way our understanding of the world has been transformed by the photographic image. Annear stated: ‘The photograph and Australia considers how the photograph invented modern Australia’.

Three other photographic exhibitions this year will provide a broad palette of photographic interests.

LOUD! is a small exhibition of works by female artists, beginning 25 April. Drawn from the AGNSW contemporary collection and including Miwa Yanagi, Yvonne Todd and Anne Zahalka, these images challenge stereotypes of womenhood and coincide with the 40th anniversary of International Women’s Day.

A solo installation of Australian Rosemary Laing’s acclaimed 1995 series greenwork opens on 11 July.

A major international exhibition will celebrate the bicentenary of the birth of early portrait photographer Julia Margaret Cameron. Julia Margaret Cameron: From the Victoria and Albert Museum opens on 14 August, featuring over 250 photographs charting Cameron’s development from amateur to innovator.

The AGNSW’s Asian collection is another focal point for 2015 and throughout the permanent collection displays is Conversations through the Asian collection. Continuing until 4 October this unique series brings historic and contemporary works together to invite new interpretations.

The contemporary artists include Khadim Ali, Montien Boonma, Anish Kapoor, Yang Yongliang, Shahzia Sikander and Nam June Paik and their works, as Justin Paton, head curator of international art explained, ‘lead the way into the riches of the historical collection’.

Some relationships are direct like Rodney Glick’s Everyone no 83, 2009 paired with a 17th century Indian miniature painting of Radha and Krishna. Glick’s sculpture, made in collaboration with Balinese carvers, depicts a contemporary rendering of the lotus-clad lovers in sneakers wearing wristbands. Others such as busts by Chinese-Australian Ah Xian adjacent to ancient jade carvings address the history and traditions of craftsmanship in China.

As the exhibits change throughout the term of the exhibition, Paton said Conversations, ponders several themes: ‘What does the past have to say to the present? What does the present have to say to the past? Far from being the last word on these matters, this exhibition opens the conversation – and invites viewers to join it’.

Concurrent with Conversations, the contemporary Asian art collection of Sydney-based philanthropists Gene and Brian Sherman, of the Sherman Contemporary Art Foundation (SCAF), will be on view from 14 May. Indian artist Jitish Kallatt, whose Aquasaurus (a giant skeletal water tanker turned prehistoric creature) was exhibited at SCAF in 2008, will create an installation in the AGNSW entrance court. 

The AGNSW Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander collections will also be celebrated in several exhibitions.

Running until 1 November is Our Spirits Lie in the Water, a poetic investigation into the complex knowledge systems Indigenous people have of water. Its importance is underpinned through bark paintings, sculpture weavings of fish traps and abstract paintings depicting rockholes in the desert.

Embodiment, on view until 22 March, reveals contemporary artists including r e a, Christian Thompson, Tony Albert, Vernon Ah Kee and Darren Siwes, responding to notions of authorship and the presentation of ancestral figures in contemporary art.

Ronnie Tjampitjinpa, the important Pintupi artist, will be the subject of a solo exhibition opening 4 April. Tjampitjinpa began painting at Papunya in 1971 and is known for his distinctive bold graphic paintings, which depict important sites and the travels of the Tingari dreaming figures through the Western Desert region. The survey covers the Pintupi artist’s forty-year career demonstrating the diversity of his practice.

Not to be forgotten is the annual Archibald, Wynne and Sulman Prizes, which open 18 July. The longstanding portrait and landscape prizes is one of the most popular exhibitions in the AGNSW’s calendar. 

From portraits, to the beginnings of photography to insightful juxtapositions between historic and contemporary Asian works, it is clear that 2015 at the Art Gallery of NSW brings a variety of conversations for audiences.

Jane Somerville

Thursday 12 February, 2015

About the author

Jane Somerville is a freelance writer and editor based in Brisbane.