See you at the barricades

Art Life , Exhibitions Jun 15, 2015 No Comments

From Stella Rosa McDonald

Why do we continue to present histories in linear ways? In See you at the barricades, The Art Gallery of New South Wales’ inaugural Contemporary Collection Project, the relationship between art and protest is explored through works from the gallery’s collection. Protest stages a very real disruption to the order of things, ripping a hole in the fabric of history and letting the light shine in. In viewing this very literal exhibition I longed to be interrupted by a curation that evoked the spirit of protest itself.


Recent works by Vernon Ah Kee, Richard Bell and a newly acquired installation by Sharon Hayes are connected with earlier protest-art, including activist graphic posters from the 1970s and 80s including many from The Guerilla Girls. Alone, the art speaks for itself, proving the potency of art as protest and protest as art. Martha Rosler’s elegant and disquieting House Beautiful: Bringing the War Home series brings home the fact that art and politics are rarely separate domains. Marco Fusinato’s huge monochrome print from his Double infinitives series ascribes to the notion of the multiple in history, identity and in art. Double infinitive 5 depicts the decisive moment of a protest and uses commercial printing processes to replicate the scale of a history painting. Racquel Ormella’s hand-stitched banners that cite the words of politically minded individuals on one side and Ormella’s own doubts about her activism on the other are disarming interventions that use the language of protest—flags, banners and slogans—to enquire about the nature of protest itself. As a whole the exhibition curation courts didacticism in ways that seem contrary to the works of these artists in particular. Revisiting an institutional collection is a static curatorial premise and at a moment in Australian history where art and politics have fatally collided it could have been staged as a rich rejoinder, a catalogue of complaint. Although See you at the barricades charts artistic protest through the safety of chronology, in the end it is the art that speaks the loudest and the exhibition is a reminder of the timeless potency of social, political and cultural dissent.

Until November 29th
The Art Gallery of New South Wales, The Domain
Pic: Guerrilla Girls, “Do women have to be naked to get into the Met Museum?” from the series, Portfolio Compleat 1985-2012. Print, 45.7 x 60.9 cm, Art Gallery of New South Wales © Guerrilla Girls, courtesy Photo: Felicity Jenkins, AGNSW

Stella Rosa McDonald

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