Critics’ Picks

Anne Wallace, Entrance Uncovered, 2001, oil on canvas, 51 x 63".

Anne Wallace, Entrance Uncovered, 2001, oil on canvas, 51 x 63".


Anne Wallace

QUT Art Museum
2 George Street (next to the City Botanic Gardens)
November 9, 2019–February 23, 2020

In this retrospective, “Strange Ways,” Anne Wallace’s oil paintings of mostly white middle-class people in noirish scenarios turn up the dial on the repertoires of Edward Hopper and Alfred Hitchcock. Adding to the history of antipodean surrealism in this country, Wallace’s northern-hemisphere aesthetics are recurrently punctuated by indigenous anomalies. Native yet out-of-place fauna and local cultural insignia serve up a dreamy magical realism, while foregrounded subjects seem frozen in a clinically organized mise-en-scène she has honed since the early 1990s. 

Works such as Entrance Uncovered, 2001—in which a woman looks under furniture from the point of view of the thing she may have lost—frame very specific, ambiguous moments. Women, especially, do lots of nothing. Dark-haired avatars of the artist herself, they gaze languidly at the sky, slouch on modernist furniture, and lean on the branches of drooping trees. Even the dramatic works that interrupt this ennui—with muffled screams (Stain, 2000) and bloody splatters (Lavender Miss, 2001)—are icy and vacant.

Instead of mystery narratives awaiting deduction (or relying on clichés about the female gaze), here, with almost eighty works on display, Wallace’s paintings are more like formalist studies using noir as psychological bait. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. With Wallace, we could say that, sometimes, a woman on a bed reading a book by Jane Austen is just that. Like Nicole Eisenman, Celeste Dupuy-Spencer, and Tala Madani—painters central to the formidable reputation of the medium today—Wallace complicates social commentary with neurosis. But it’s the mute, even neutered aspects of this exhibition that really get inside your head.