I remember, even if many people don’t, visiting the Art Gallery in Melbourne when it was in the State Library Building. The museum was also housed here.
Then 50 years ago the brutalist building by Roy Grounds was opened in St Kilda Road. The building itself was controversial with its huge grey walls and defensive moat. It is now one of the most visited Art Museums in the world, sitting around number 20 depending on the list used.
Imagine the excitement when the art works that had formerly been seen in a few Victorian era galleries in a Neo Classical building, were moved to a huge, modern venue. The opening exhibition was keenly awaited. What was shown – shocked.
The Field was a big and bold survey of colour field and hard edge art movement shown on silver walls inspired by the walls of Andy Warhol’s Factory studio. The legacy, quoting from the catalogue – is the “recognition of the public art gallery as a place where expectations can be challenged rather than where the familiar is confirmed”.
The Field: Revisited opened at the end of April in the Ian Potter Centre, the gallery for Australian art that opened also amid controversy in 2002. In her introductory talk, the curator explained how they decided to show all the paintings and sculptures that could be found, and place them in the same space as much as possible considering it was in a different building. She used photos from the original catalogue to determine where the works were hung.
A grey tone masonite replica is hung where a missing work should have been as with this work by Rollin Schlict Twentieth century note which is believed to be destroyed. Also by Schlict, Dempsey 1968 was thought to have also have been destroyed but was found rolled in his studio. Both works explore the concept that paintings need not be confined to the conventional shape of the square, rectangle, oval or circle.
I liked the way this painting seemed to contain architectural elements; stairs, arches, window panes or tiles. He was also an architect, maybe that was the influence.
More domestic items were the inspiration for other works.
Dale Hickey’s magnificent untitled work of 1967 was based on a quilt pattern found on a bedspread. The use of shading creates an amazing optical effect of depth.
Kind-hearted kitchen-garden IV 1968 gets its name from the first and last words on the page of a dictionary. Robert Rooney’s series is based on observations at his parents’ home in Hawthorn East. The main shape comes from the internal curves of a clothes peg.
The myth of the machine 1968 is by Udo Sellback who was born in Germany and migrated here after spending the war living in Cologne. This is part of a series that explore abstracted rectangles. His forms are inspired by topographies of cities bombed and devastated.
The shadow cast by a sheet hung from a Hills hoist is transformed in the breeze, like a rectangle but with edges that moved.
I found this work totally absorbing, with so many forms to explore around the edges of the black shape.
Three other works I really loved. Noumenon XIX Indian Summer 1967s by Alun Leach-Jones and one of two works from the series in The Field. The circular form is filled with a complex and lively pattern. Malvern 1967 by Dale Hickey has the most serene look you could almost fall into it.
And James Doolin’s Artificial landscape 67-5 is just beautiful.
After 50 years this important exhibition still looks fresh and new and exciting.