Book review: DECADE: Wyndham Art Gallery 2011–21

A deserving community love letter to Wyndham Art Gallery nestled in Melbourne’s deep west.

The first 10 years of a person’s life is seen as imperative in shaping their personality, identity and ultimately their future. The first 10 years of a gallery is pretty much the same – the starting vision, the people leading it and the exhibitions that are staged all contribute towards what the future of the gallery will look like.

DECADE: Wyndham Art Gallery 2011-21 traces the breadth of challenging and thought-provoking exhibitions that the gallery has delivered over these years, a period that has seen a great deal of history in the making.

So it comes as a surprise that none of the artworks / exhibition images are dated, or perhaps it points to the universality and timelessness of the topics evoked through these works that are grounded in radical truth-telling.

Situated in the deep west of Melbourne, one of Wyndham Art Gallery’s ethos is to capture the nuanced and diverse representations of the community, a space where they could ‘see themselves reflected’.

To do this involves ceding power to build relational spaces, a feat that Indigenous artist and academic Brian Martin argued was achieved to full effect at the gallery. Curators Maree Clarke (2015-19) and Megan Evans (2011-ongoing) ‘both have intentionally thrusted this relational agenda where “Cultural decolonisation is the perpetual struggle to make both Indigenous and settler peoples aware of the complexity of our shared colonial condition,” said Martin.

Read: Book review: Our Members Be Unlimited, Sam Wallman

These intentions are reflected through exhibitions such as RACE 2016 (featuring the Unpacking RACE event), STOLEN/WEALTH in 2019 (including artists Abdul Abdullah, Lisa Waup, Judy Watson and wāni taoishara), and TREATY 2021 in light of negotiations between the Victorian Government and First Nations clans. Also of note is the Wyndham Art Prize inaugurated in 2015, a vital stepping stone for local and emerging artists.

Page excerpts from DECADE: Wyndham Art Gallery 2011–21, Unpacking Race event 2016. Image supplied.

Flipping through the pages – with essays by Martin, David Cross and interviews with Maree Clarke, artist Ivy Mutuku and Peter Waples-Crowe by curator Olivia Poloni – it’s not difficult to see the love and respect that the community holds for the gallery. It resonates of the hope for another 10 years of thought-provoking exhibitions.

While an enjoyable visual survey and testimony of the place that Wyndham Art Gallery holds in the heart of many, the publication lacked lustre in capturing specific topical artworks or occurrences that could give the reader a better feel of what it’s like to be a part of this living legacy.

As such, some of the testimonials included in Fatima Measham’s essay ‘The Making of a People’s Gallery’ was of great interest. One viewer left a message on the visitor book after seeing the gallery’s inaugural exhibition, CHRISTMAS HEART 2011: ‘Thanks for pricking our consciences regarding the environment and reminding us of the enormity of our thoughtless actions.’ Another said that they ‘went on a journey’ with the 2014 show PASSAGE THROUGH CEREMONY. It is through these lenses that we catch a glimpse of the gallery in action.

Perhaps a photo or copy could have been included to share more of those voices from the public, those who were as engaged with the gallery as its curators and artists.

As Measham encapsulated: ‘For me, having access to a public institution that lets me step away from work and life, and then returns me to them revived (either delighted or disturbed) can’t be anything else but a gift.’

DECADE: Wyndham Art Gallery 2011 – 21
Publisher: Carlow Books
ISBN: 9781760643881
Format: Hardback
Pages: 208pp
Publication Date: 2 June 2022
RRP: $49.99

The book will launch at the opening of the Wyndham Art Prize on 2 June 2022.

Celina Lei is an arts writer and editor at ArtsHub. She acquired her M.A in Art, Law and Business in New York with a B.A. in Art History and Philosophy from the University of Melbourne. She has previously worked across global art hubs in Beijing, Hong Kong and New York in both the commercial art sector and art criticism. Most recently she took part in drafting NAVA’s revised Code of Practice - Art Fairs. Celina is based in Naarm/Melbourne.