When I first visited the two great private collections of art in the west, those of Kerry Stokes and Wesfarmers, I felt I was entering a different world with little to match them in the east. Subsequently TarraWarra, White Rabbit and MONA have all come into being and Australian art is growing in its complexity and diversity. The private collectors now have a voice.
Luminous World is a selection of about 50 works acquired by the Wesfarmers collection in Perth over the past 30 years. The curator, Helen Carroll, brought them together because she felt that they all dealt with the idea of light, in one way or another. This is a reasonable proposition and it is well argued in the gorgeous and lavish accompanying catalogue, which has also become a feature of the West Australian collections and their exhibitions.
What emerges very clearly from this exhibition is that it is impossible today to speak of Australian art without bringing together indigenous and non-indigenous art. The old apartheid model of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art in one room accompanied by captions by anthropologists, while non-indigenous art is in another written up by art historians is silly and outdated. Australian art, at least to some extent, depends for its vitality on a cross-fertilisation between indigenous and non-indigenous art and this is beautifully stressed throughout the exhibition with the juxtapositioning of Dale Hickey with John Mawurndjul and Barrupu Yunupingu, or Godfrey Miller with a dramatic owl by Brook Andrew.
Of course this is not a question of assimilation or some sort of amalgamation, but of traditions enriching one another and bringing a distinctiveness to Australian art. Throughout the exhibition there are dozens of subtle nuances as one art work references its neighbour with a rich and developing diversity.
Generally the calibre of the work on display is exceptional, but, and this need not be a criticism, most of the artists are represented by their signature styles. We have brilliant, typical Bill Hensons, a wonderful and very characteristic Rosalie Gascoigne, the most predictable Michael Riley from the Cloud series, a very beautiful and recognisable Judy Watson and so on. It is an exhibition that you can easily navigate without a catalogue and without reading the labels, and know at 10 paces exactly what you are looking at. This is a slightly conservative note that is common in many high-calibre corporate collections. Personally, I was a bit disappointed by the lack of printmaking in the display, so that even Lesley Duxbury, who is best known as a printmaker, in this show is represented by a painting.
What was refreshing was the large representation of West Australian artists and that it was an Australasian exhibition, with an excellent core of New Zealand artists. Despite talk about shrinking distances and work from Papunya being shown in Sydney a couple of weeks after they have been painted, reputations of artists in the west take a very long time to register in the east.
It is amazing how Howard Taylor, one of Australia's most important artists of the 20th century, is still so poorly known in Melbourne, Sydney and Canberra.
There are superb works in this exhibition by West Australian-based artists Brian Blanchflower, Lydia Balbal, Carol Rudyard, Adam Derums, Sine MacPherson and Tom Gibbons.
Luminous is a wonderful show, radiating with light and energy
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