Streeton Exhibition To Open At AGNSW

Robb Report speaks to AGNSW Director Dr Michael Brand about the largest retrospective of the Australian artist since the 1920s.

By Terry Christodoulou 05/11/2020

Australia’s most important Impressionist painter, Arthur Streeton, is being highlighted in an impressive retrospective held at the Art Gallery of NSW. Here, Streeton exhibits more than 150 paintings, drawings and watercolours from 42 public and private collection, some not shown publicly for more than a century.

Popular for his sun-drenched landscapes from the 1880s and vibrant depictions of Sydney Harbour in the 1890s, Arthur Streeton defined the image of Australia’s unique environment. His recognisable style and southern hemisphere lens was further elevated through his travels as his international career in Egypt, England Italy and World War I France before returning to Australia in the 1920s.

An in-depth survey of the artist’s significant contribution to the fabric of Australian art, Streeton opens this Saturday –  November 7 to February 14, 2021 – and is the first single-artist exhibition since the gallery was reopened to the public on June 1, following a 10-week COVID-19 enforced shutdown.

Robb Report sat down with AGNSW director Dr Michael Brand to talk about the difficulties and joy of opening an exhibition in a new, post-COVID era.

 

RR: What are the major challenges with organising an exhibition during COVID?

MB: This one has been planned for two years, and when COVID hit we anticipated challenges getting pieces from international galleries, however, we didn’t expect getting pieces from Victoria to be such an issue.

We’re actually sitting down with BIZOT group – the International Group of Organisers of Major Exhibitions – to talk about how we can continue to share art internationally and safely. There is a real appetite there to share art – however the planning and logistics of getting art to Australia, with an art courier [someone who travels with the art] under the COVID regulations has seen us have to push back a few exhibitions.

 

RR: So how did it alter the program for 2020?

MB: Obviously the Archibald Prize was pushed back from its normal date of May to just recently in September, and Streeton was meant to run a little bit earlier and now will be our major exhibition running over summer.

 

RR: What makes Streeton so important to the greater catalogue of Australian art?

MB: In terms of Streeton, he is without question Australia’s most famous impressionist. And with artists like Streeton, you do need to go back and look at their work and see it with fresh eyes, new research and view it in the context of your time. Now, we look at Streeton and his interest in preserving the forests. Towards the end of his life he was worried about logging, and it’s fascinating that we are still having these discussions today.

Arthur Streeton, ‘Beach scene’ – 1890.

RR: Do you think that Streeton’s enduring appeal is linked to the turbulent turn of the century timeframe that he was painting within?

MB: It was such a transformational time for Australia. As a nation we were approaching federation, we had a financial collapse in Melbourne, the first world war, and then the great depression. I think it’s in that moment that we see Australian art separate itself from British art.

 

RR: I understand this has been in the planning for two years – but how timely, and relevant is it to be celebrating Australian art during a period where we are looking more inwards?

MB: Yes, well it really is a perfect time to be celebrating Streeton. However, I do want to say that just because we are celebrating the landscape and art of Australia through Streeton, we should never retreat into a parochial view of ‘that’s all we need’. That’s not what Streeton wanted, he wanted to see paintings of other artists and go and travel through and paint Europe and Cairo. It’s really important that Australian art galleries continue to play that role of helping artists get overseas but also get other art back to Australia so our audience can explore it.

Arthur Streeton
Arthur Streeton, ‘Ariadne’- 1895.

 

RR: And when do you foresee galleries being able to achieve ‘normalcy’ through bringing in international artists?

MB: We’re predicting mid-next year for our first international exhibition. But you know, things could always change – you just have to look at Europe going through its second and third wave to see that.

The problem is not the logistics, it’s the planning. The problem is not necessarily getting the art there – it will get there, but will you get it on time is the bigger problem.

The benefit of the art gallery is that we have space and we want people to be able to feel comfortable coming through, enjoying the day out and doing something that they would normally do in Sydney. I think the more we inspire confidence, the more it helps.

 

For information on the Streeton exhibition, visit: artgallery.nsw.gov.au

Lead image: Arthur Streeton, Land of the Golden Fleece, 1926

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