Helen Hughes

  • Lucy Bleach, attenuated ground (the slow seismogenic zone) (detail), 2021, double bass, toffee, seismometer, wooden table, tactile trans-ducers, formply, plaster, surface-vibration speakers, polished concrete, powdered core sample, powdered gold leaf, Ficus coronata plant, rhizobox, soil. Installation view. From the TarraWarra Biennial 2021. Photo: Andrew Curtis.

    TarraWarra Biennial 2021

    This year’s TarraWarra Biennial, one of just a small handful of national surveys of contemporary Australian art, takes its title from the Woiwurrung word tarrawarra, meaning “slow moving waters.” The biennial’s curator, Nina Miall, consulted with senior Wurundjeri elder Aunty Joy Murphy Wandin AO to learn from the Birrarung (Yarra River) and embed its unhurried movements in the aesthetic foundation of her exhibition. Works by twenty-five artists variously embody or demonstrate acts of slowness, deceleration, delay, or the “decompression of time.” Jeremy Bakker’s overly literal though charming

  • John Nixon, Untitled (polychrome), 2018, enamel, wood, MDF, 23 5/8 × 17 3/4".

    John Nixon

    John Nixon’s exhibition “Groups + Pairs 2016–2020” opened in March only to be paused due to Covid-19 restrictions. Nixon was suffering from leukemia and passed away in August at the age of seventy. As a gesture toward his legacy, his decades-long gallerist and friend, Anna Schwartz, announced that his final exhibition would remain on display for the rest of the year. A nearly yearlong show is fitting for Nixon—a radical modernist who spent more than a decade, for instance, producing orange monochromes. The extended run affords a matchless opportunity for Nixon’s significant and abiding following

  • Alex Cuffe, When the anaesthetic wore off the lights were so bright . . . the only thing they could offer was this washcloth . . . I woke up screaming . . . all they could offer was this washcloth . . . the first words I remember were addressed to a body of a different gender . . . I held the nurses hand smiling while my first words were to correct her . . . and all I have left is a washcloth that will never be clean, 2019, cotton cloth, hair dye, 17 3/4 × 13 3/4".

    Alex Cuffe

    Crying selfies are frequently derided by those who cannot reconcile genuine grief with the broadcast culture of social media. For them, a crying selfie, like a “sleeping” selfie, reveals only its own disingenuity. Performative happiness is tolerable, but performative grief is suspect. Ambivalent to this binary pairing, “Love is the Length of her Hair” pivoted around an archive of crying selfies that Alex Cuffe has taken over the past five years, the period of time that encompasses her gender transition. She selected forty-three of these camera-phone photographs and had them digitally printed on

  • View of “Apparel,” 2020.

    “Apparel”

    At the far end of Neon Parc’s long, dark, windowless gallery, spotlights illuminated an arrangement of mannequins modeling outfits in various states of deconstruction. The mise-en-scène approximated an abandoned shopping mall: The mannequins—some very old, unclothed, and covered in dust—stood on platforms made from discarded building materials, and around the perimeter of the installation sat some miscellaneous office chairs, a decommissioned water boiler, and an ancient piece of projection equipment. Here, fashion was a site of ruin envisioned from some point in a postapocalyptic future.

    In

  • Paul Yore, (Soft) Hard Brexit, 2018, mixed media, 73 1⁄4 × 15 3⁄8 × 19 1⁄4".

    Paul Yore

    Paul Yore’s work is unmistakably queer. Generally speaking, his textiles, soft sculptures, and installations feature the colors of the rainbow flag; his technique of carefully sewing small scraps of fabric together recalls the aids Memorial Quilt. More conspicuously, penises and dildos abound in his work, alongside cartoonish depictions of gay sex. Yet even while it zealously, even overzealously, embodies the queer aesthetics of camp, Yore’s artwork resists articulating a queer identity as such. Instead, in its hyperactive cocktail of negativity, sarcasm, and pleasure, it figures “queer” as a

  • View of “Steaphan Paton.” 2019.

    Steaphan Paton

    Walking into Steaphan Paton’s exhibition “Nullius in Verba,” one was confronted by a triangular formation of twelve leaf-shaped shields mounted on poles—and it was practically impossible not to anthropomorphize them. Indeed, that the shields confront you, that they address you, is, one suspects, the point. Each is about six feet tall, and cumulatively each shield, pole, and base unit matches the artist’s height and weight. For those trained in canonical Western modernism, the installation might bring to mind Michael Fried’s famous summation of Minimalist art as registering the “silent presence

  • Lauren Burrow, Temper (detail), 2019, tempered glass, eucalyptus resin, 12' 9 1⁄2“ × 18' 3 5⁄8”.

    Lauren Burrow

    Bad moods, vagueness, reluctance to interpolate, deanthropomorphised mouth, antidepressed fish: This 2019 piece, whose title was spelled out neatly in permanent marker on horizontal bands of toilet paper mounted high on the gallery walls, announced the key terms of Lauren Burrow’s exhibition. Titled “Nuisance Flows,” it was oriented around the scientific analysis of the effects of antidepressants, not on humans, but on fish, whose environments have become subject to pharmaceutical pollution in recent years. Around the world, antidepressants are turning up in wastewater effluent, eventually making

  • Dale Hickey, Untitled 6, 2018, acrylic on board, 47 1⁄4 × 35 3⁄8".

    Dale Hickey

    Over nearly six decades, the Melbourne-based artist Dale Hickey has presented historians of Australian art with a minor conundrum, which is how—or, indeed, whether—a consistent conceptual project is expressed across the breadth and diversity of his long career. As a friend and astute critic of the artist, Gary Catalano, once wondered, What is the work’s “hidden content?”

    After gaining prominence as a painter of hard-edge abstraction in the mid-1960s, Hickey abandoned painting for Conceptual art at the close of the decade, producing a number of idiosyncratic, de-skilled works such as Fences, 1969,

  • View of “Kate Daw and Stewart Russell,” 2018. From left: A Simple Act, 2008; Olympic Project for Human Rights Curtain, 2018; Olympic Project for Human Rights Soft Badge, 2018. Photo: Christo Crocker.

    Kate Daw and Stewart Russell

    Peter Norman, a white Australian sprinter, is mainly remembered for his role in the 1968 Mexico City Olympic Games, where he won silver in the two hundred meters, with African American athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos winning gold and bronze, respectively. At the medal ceremony, Smith and Carlos famously bowed their heads and each raised a clenched, black-gloved fist as the US national anthem played. Norman acted as an ally, donning an Olympic Project for Human Rights badge along with Smith and Carlos. When Carlos realized he had left his gloves in the Olympic village, Norman suggested that

  • Tiger Yaltangki, Malpa Wiru (Good Friends), 2018, acrylic on linen, 48 × 59 1⁄2".

    Tiger Yaltangki

    In the western and central deserts of Australia, singing and painting are profoundly linked practices. Writings on Papunya Tula artists such as Yukultji Napangati, to cite a prominent example, often describe them as singing their paintings into being: Sitting around canvases stretched on the floor, each simultaneously sings and paints stories of her country, its topographies, and Dreamings (creation myths). As such, it is not an uncommon museological practice in Australia to exhibit paintings by desert artists alongside vocal recordings. This custom suggests that observing a painting in isolation

  • Robert Hunter

    Robert Hunter (1947–2014) is renowned for his “white-on-white” paintings, although, as any Hunter admirer will attest, his works are infinitely more chromatically complex than that. The artist typically based his compositions on a grid (and, anecdotally, on the geometry of the pool table), crisscrossing that structure with intricate but barely perceptible patterns executed in a seemingly inexhaustible palette of white and off-white hues of house paint. This first major retrospective presents forty-one pieces from 1966 to 2013, featuring two remakes of wall paintings, a

  • View of “Unfinished Business,” 2017–18. Photo: Andrew Curtis.

    “Unfinished Business”

    “Unfinished Business: Perspectives on art and feminism” took as its structuring principle the theme of polyphony to demonstrate the maxim “There is no viable feminism, only pluralist feminisms.” And the show had a six-piece curatorial team to prove it, allowing for internal dissent, and for different and even antithetical subject positions to emerge within the exhibition. Though it concentrated on contemporary Australian art and included several new commissions, “Unfinished Business” was anchored by some important historical touchstones. Under the framework of polyphony, central core imagery by