Perhaps the most memorable of the exhibitions I have written about this year was at Lake Macquarie City Art Gallery, with books treated as objects as much as cultural signifiers. Curator Meryl Ryan brought many insightful things together in a coherent visual essay.
In conjunction with this exhibition, Lezlie Tilley, whose paper-based works have been widely shown this year, enhanced her text pieces to create a musical score. Music, specially composed, was also a component in another of the year’s highlights, when Brett McMahon continued his haptic abstract interpretation of shoreline and rock platform in huge installations at the University Gallery.
Another notable event there celebrated the 90th birthday and 70 years exhibiting by chameleon artist Rae Richards, with new paintings experimenting in lyrical landscape. An equally notable individual project was the enormous exhibition of selections from a wide-ranging anonymous private collection.
Private collectors have made lavish gifts to the Maitland Regional Art Gallery. Chinese scroll paintings cover 500 years of tradition, while the celebrated etchings and wood engravings of Lionel Lindsay remain fresh. Also at Maitland, the photographs of Fiona Foley startlingly displayed the power of the mask.
Newcastle Art Gallery has through summer the vast and mysterious paintings of Tim Maguire, as well as welcome works from the permanent collection. Earlier in the year there was a rewarding show from the National Gallery of Australia of paintings by women abstractionists and there was a tribute to the late Mazie Turner’s translucent paint.
There is still has no official encouragement for the overdue expansion the gallery so badly needs. The Kilgour Prize deserves a rethink, but it is good to report I’ve seen works from our collection in exhibitions around the country, adding to its national profile.
What else took my eye? Christine Ross interpreted Japan in dazzling geometrical paintings at Art Systems Wickham, where Dino Consalvo also celebrated minimal geometry with monotone bridges and John Barnes engendered bouncing constellations of abstract exuberance.
Timeless Textiles constantly expands the range of the sewn, stitched and dyed in work by national and international fibre artists such as Judy Hooworth. Olivia Parsonage’s fabric fables made a strong appearance at Gallery 139.
Curve had another good year, with Michael Bell’s dog walker encountering mortality at the Obelisk and Jane Lander invoking a heaving overcast ocean. The Lock-Up accommodated Andrew Styan’s giant, gently breathing globe as well as Angelica Mesiti’s mysteriously immersive video and the high-profile artmaking of James Drinkwater and Lottie Consalvo.
There were artist books at Acrux, Frank Murri played with π (Pi), Kelly Ann Lees turned preloved metal into flowers and seeds and Steve Glassboro’s evermore elaborate deco nymphs posed at Cooks Hill Galleries. Doctoral student Vanessa Lewis continues to inventively explore the underpinnings of historical painting. Anne Maree Hunter’s prints incorporated maps. Sally Reynolds’s wood block printed forest is truly monumental. John Earle won the second annual Newcastle Club Foundation art prize.
There have been a number of big exhibitions at Lower Hunter public galleries this year, but some smaller offerings have carried the most weight. While the Kilgour Prize, Phantom Show, Michael Zavros’ decadence and Tim Maguire’s mega-flora dominated Newcastle Art Gallery’s spaces, three more sedate exhibitions created greater impact through a combination of great skill, artistic integrity and conceptual clarity.
In The Island, sculptor Alex Seton’s presented life-jackets, palm trees, oars and outboard motors, all masterfully carved from marble to form an evocative memorial to all refugees who have perished seeking a better life. Through the fusion of ancient traditions with contemporary technology Seton has produced deeply contemplative works of great beauty and poignancy.
Another highlight was Montages: The Full Cut 1999–2015, a collection of eight short films by Tracey Moffatt made in collaboration with Gary Hillberg. These reconstructed video montages were totally engrossing, full of social, political and emotional insight, laden with sharp wit, keen observation and rare humour.
Abstraction: celebrating Australian women abstract artists was an immensely important and satisfying exhibition curated from the Australian National Gallery’s collection. It is hoped that exhibitions of similar quality might emerge from Newcastle’s collection. The very well-considered Painting Memory is proof that size and sparkle isn’t everything.
At Lake Macquarie City Art Gallery major touring exhibitions, gallery-curated shows and work from local and regional artists are always presented with utmost professionalism and clarity of purpose. The historically-based Scanlines was an intriguing examination of pre-digital Australian video art, but it was the beautifully printed photographs in Diane Arbus, American Portraits that really left an indelible impression. Lake Macquarie was one of only four galleries entrusted by the National Gallery of Australia to present this exhibition, and hopefully many more such gems will follow.
In the gallery’s sculpture park Jamie North’s towering structure of decaying concrete and steel, Succession, continues to transform itself as the plant life that is integral to the work thrives.
North’s exhibition Slidings, at the Lock-Up in May, expanded his use of industrial materials combined with living plants into a series of fully realised installation pieces, ideally positioned in the historically charged spaces of the former jail.
Diane Arbus, American Portraits really left an indelible impression
The Lock-Up continues to cement its position as Newcastle’s leading contemporary art space. Strong exhibitions from progressive local artists, work from internationally recognised headliners such as Shaun Gladwell, and performance and musical pieces shared the space with highly significant local projects like Stitched Up, which involved more than 50 fibre artists.
With five exhibitions running at any one time, Maitland Regional Art Gallery continues to attract a strong audience with its diverse range of quality shows. Major touring exhibitions, like the internationally significant Colonial Afterlives featuring indigenous art, neighbour work from established and emerging Lower Hunter contemporary artists and exhibitions of particular historic and artistic interest, such as Lionel Lindsay’s wonderful suite of prints.
The café and top-rate gift shop cannot be separated from this small gallery’s on-going popularity.