Hung by feeling – doing it Louise Hearman’s way

Brooke Boland

The first extensive survey of Louise Hearman’s work is hung by feeling in more ways than one.
Hung by feeling – doing it Louise Hearman’s way

Louise Hearman Untitled #727 1999, oil on masonite. Collection of the artist. Image courtesy and © the artist. Photograph: Mark Ashkanasy.

Most people know artist Louise Hearman for her portrait of Barry Humphries, which was awarded the 2016 Archibald Prize. But here’s something you didn’t know: She really doesn't like it when people measure things, which is why the extensive survey of her work now touring Australia is hung by feeling, rather than the straight line of a ruler.

‘She hates people measuring things. Curators and people who are installing shows usually look at a wall, measure it up and divide it into thirds, and then hang the work, so there are all these measurements going on. I made a decision after working with Louise that we weren't going to do that. We are putting things on the wall where they feel right, which is quite fun,’ said Anna Davis, Curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (MCA).

While the show is hung by feeling rather than measurement, the works are also clustered according to mood. Known for her dark, dream-like paintings this arrangement fits well with Hearman’s untitled paintings that leave interpretation entirely to the viewer.

‘It’s a really feeling based, emotional show. Everything was chosen based on intuition and so from really early on I thought that's how we should arrange the show as well, and of course Louise was really open to that. We just felt our way through. I was clustering things by moods and atmospheres and feelings,’ said Davis. 

Louise Hearman Untitled #1298 2009, oil on masonite. Private collection, Melbourne. Image courtesy and © the artist. Photograph: Mark Ashkanasy.

‘We’ve done it slightly differently for each iteration, so at the MCA and then it was at TarraWarra Museum, and now coming to Brisbane, it will be slightly different each time, which is quite exciting.’

When asked why it was time to mount a survey of Hearman’s work, Davis said, ‘The question is more like, why hasn’t there been a survey of her work?’ 

‘I was doing some research and thinking about her work and it just suddenly came to me that she’s never had a major survey at any of the big museums. I thought she definitely should have one - she’s an amazing artist.’

The extensive survey will now make QUT Art Museum its home from 3 June to 6 August. This is a rare opportunity for Queensland audiences to view work by one of Australia’s most respected contemporary painters, as well as hear from the artist herself, who will appear in conversation with Davis on Saturday 3 June.

The show builds on the informal touring partnership between MCA and QUT Art Museum. ‘We want to be the go to Museum in Queensland for possible touring shows from MCA as we believe our promotion of emerging contemporary art sits well with MCA’s brand,’ said Kevin Wilson, QUT Art Museum Curator.

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‘The partnership is important as it gives Queensland audiences a richer overview of Australian contemporary art.’

It is also an important exhibition because it gives space to a prolific painter, who happens to be a woman. ‘It is incredibly important that more women artists are shown in major museums and have solo exhibitions and are dedicated considerable space, which hasn’t happened in the past,’ said Davis. 

‘I don’t believe, necessarily, in quotas. It’s more that there are really good artists out there who happen to be women and who have been overlooked because of the way the world works. It is exciting to be able to give them the opportunity that they deserve.’

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About the author

Brooke Boland is a Melbourne-based freelance writer.