Critics’ Picks

View of “Voice and Reason,” 2013–14.


“Voice and Reason”

Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art
Stanley Place, Cultural Precinct, South Bank
May 18 - April 21

“Voice and Reason,” a collection-driven group show that concentrates on aesthetic exchanges between indigenous and nonindigenous Australian artists, extends this gallery’s focus on cultural integration, a mission it has pursued since the inauguration of the Asia-Pacific Triennial in 1993. Although the exhibition’s title and premise awkwardly cast indigenous Australian art in terms of vernacular culture—in contrast with the reason-oriented West—the show itself is subtler, employing astute spatial arrangements that contest past ethnographic representations of aboriginal culture.

The first two galleries are particularly arresting: These rooms feature a selection of Michael Boiyool Anning’s vibrant shield works from 2003, which are modeled on traditional North Queensland warfare objects; Margaret Preston’s Aboriginal Still Life, 1940, a painting that depicts a shield resembling one of Anning’s works; and Gordon Bennett’s Home decor (after Margaret Preston) no. 1, 1996, a canvas that appropriates Preston’s 1940 painting Aboriginal Still Life. Such curatorial decisions evoke colonialist and postcolonialist ideologies to reveal how both are largely defined through a symbolic reconfiguring of the past. Throughout the exhibition, such historically loaded configurations acquire additional nuances through their juxtaposition with surrounding works that spark more formal associations, as in Joe Ngallametta’s austere milkwood sculptures Thap yongk (Law poles), 2002–2003, and Brook Andrew’s ironic print Sexy and dangerous, 1996, both of which incorporate white handpainted lines.

Selected works from Luke Roberts’s photographic series “AlphaStation/Alphaville,” 2009, end the exhibition on a satirical note. For instance, in the diptych The Spearing (A) and (B), 2009, Roberts, dressed in a kitsch cowboy outfit, is depicted in the Australian bush reading a book titled Tyranny while fellow artist Richard Bell stands alongside in a white studio backdrop, menacingly aiming a spear in his direction. In the same gallery, Harriet Jane Neville-Rolfe’s watercolors from the early 1880s sensitively document the indigenous people of Alpha Station, Queensland, where Roberts’s photographs are set, providing a counterpoint typical of the exhibition’s inventive dialogical representation of Australian art.