It is only when you glance back at a year of exhibitions in Canberra that you realise how active is our arts scene and how rich the array of offerings. Most years, I visit between 120 and 150 exhibitions in Canberra and review about half the number in The Canberra Times.
The Canberra visual art scene is a three-speed affair - the national cultural institutions (their number is fairly static and in recent years they have experienced a financial squeeze from a federal government not engaged with the arts), smaller regional and special interest art galleries (they are expanding in number and are generally reliant on local funding sources) and the commercial art galleries, that are so few in number that you can count them on the fingers of one hand. With peoples's discretionary income increasingly limited and the subsidised institutional galleries selling art to bolster their revenues, the plight of the commercial art galleries deepens.
The National Gallery of Australia continues with a strong program of exhibitions that will draw the crowds and boost income, and those that need to happen and are historically and culturally significant. One of these was Contemporary Worlds: Indonesia that chalked up so many firsts that it would rate highly in the arts Olympics. It was an exhibition that hit all of the senses, especially that of sound, and you emerged feeling thoroughly immersed in contemporary Indonesian culture.
Inked: Australian Cartoons at the National Library of Australia brought a smile to many a face from that curious world that cartoons occupy in the Australian visual arts scene. Appearing proudly in newspapers, they are not exactly "underground" or street art, yet in their ephemeral and topical nature they appear locked in a circumscribed historical moment. It is when a cartoon manages to transcend the local and the topical and makes a comment that touches the universal that it becomes a great image. There was a scattering of these great images in this exhibition, some made by Canberra artists.
An exhibition by the Townsend clan, Suzie Bleach, Andy Townsend, Harry Townsend and Rose Townsend, Wandering between the past and the present, at the Canberra Contemporary Art Space in Manuka was one of the quirkiest and most memorable shows of the year. It dealt with the environment, an impending catastrophe and a glimmer of hope - all expressed in powerful, beautifully rendered forms. Although much of the work was sculpture, the family presented a complete installation - a total art work.
Alex Asch's On the horizon - assemblages was one of the more memorable exhibitions at the Beaver Galleries. Like the Townsends, Asch is essentially a Canberra-based artist, an exquisite craftsman and at times a profound thinker. It was another exhibition about uncomfortable truths and confronting realities that created a powerful visual impact.
Ben Taylor in some ways is a reluctant artist, who exhibits rarely, so his exhibition at the Nancy Sever Gallery was a very welcome event. His first Canberra show in about 15 years was a triumph of draughtsmanship, bold design and memorable imagery. Fatima Killeen, another local artist whose work we see too rarely, in her Collision: Conflict of Sacred Realities at the Belconnen Arts Centre, created highly distilled images of serene beauty drawing on her Islamic heritage. She is an artist with a social conscience who is prepared to denounce hypocrisy and coercion, no matter how much it is against the tide of opinion.
The Megalo Print Gallery had another stellar year in promoting the multifaceted art of printmaking with a series of exhibitions, the most memorable of which was that from Cicada Press in Sydney including some absolutely magnificent work by Elisabeth Cummings, Kevin Connor, Euan Macleod and Reg Mombassa.