Choosing your favourite art exhibition of the year ahead is a tricky task for anyone, but when art is your full-time focus it’s even more challenging. We asked directors of the top galleries around the country to nominate one must-see show but, recognising the challenge, allowed them a cheeky second pick.
The results range from large shows to small, blockbusters long-awaited through to the independent and up-and-coming. It’s a cracker year for the visual arts so get your diary out and start planning a few arts-led trips. Frontrunner on my wishlist: the recently announced Yoshitomo Nara show (February 26–June 25) in Perth.
Detail of Vincent Namatjira’s The Royal Tour (Vincent and Elizabeth on Country), 2022.Credit:Iwantja Arts
Mary Mulcahy, director, Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery
I’m looking forward to Vincent Namatjira: Australia in Colour (October 23–January 24) at the Art Gallery of South Australia. I love the combination of colour and satire in his work and look forward to the delicious laugh-out-loud moments but also the moments of reflection (often uncomfortable) when the more you look, the more layers of meaning you uncover.
I’m not sure what works will be featured but I hope it will have some of his paintings of world leaders like the Queen or Donald Trump, with their cultural offerings to the world – quirky and funny but with layers and layers of commentary on things like colonialism and world politics.
Also: Jimmy Possum: an unbroken tradition at Launceston’s Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery (until May 28). The exhibition showcases a unique style of chair-making from Tasmania’s Meander Valley, a tradition that started in the late 1800s and continues today.
Adam Worrall, director, Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory
I can’t wait to see Jordan Wolfson’s Cube at the National Gallery of Australia – I hear it is likely to go on show later this year. The work is a lifelike, large-scale mirror cube with arms and it crawls around the floor, flashes and dances to music; it also has facial recognition software so it can sense where you are and will engage with you in the space. I’m sure it’s going to be a challenging work, but it’s an important next step for contemporary art.
Wolfson is best-known for his interactive, animatronic sculptures and his works always ask questions about technology, mass media and the tension between reality and artificiality. He’s made this incredibly provocative and engineered sculpture, he is leading the world in doing this; there are artists doing similar things but no one is doing it as well as him. I’m sure I will be horrified and terrified when I actually see this work, but that’s what often comes with interacting with his work, they create amazing experiences. From a visitor’s perspective, it’s art giving you something you didn’t necessarily expect and sometimes that’s an amazingly positive experience and sometimes it’s challenging.
I have no doubt Cube will be incredibly popular, there will be massive queues to see it as there are with every major work that he has delivered, but it will be interesting to see if it has any lasting effects.
Also: Michael Zavros: The Favourite with eX de Medici: Beautiful Wickedness (June 24–October 2), QAGOMA
A selection of Karla Dickens’ work at Campbelltown.Credit:Document Photography
Rhana Devenport, director of Art Gallery of South Australia.
Rhana Devenport, director, Art Gallery of South Australia
I am really looking forward to seeing Karla Dickens, Embracing Shadows at Campbelltown Arts Centre. Wiradjuri artist Karla Dickens is a bricoleur of unloved yet potent materials.
Female identity, racial injustice and, more recently, the aftermath of the 2022 Lismore floods are themes present over Dickens’ three decades of practice. Her work was a major feature of AGSA’s 2000 Adelaide Biennial of Australian Art: Monster Theatres where her art transfixed audiences with its wry humour and a near magical transformation of preloved and unloved materials into potent micro-worlds of juxtapositions and ideas.
Also: Tomas Saraceno: Oceans of Art, MONA, until July 24.
A piece from Diego Ramirez’s show he says is “inspired by the social mediatisation of Pemex’s spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2021” at MARS Gallery.Credit:Diego Ramirez and MARS Gallery
Director of the Art Gallery of Western Australia Colin Walker.
Colin Walker, director, Art Gallery of Western Australia
The one I’m really, really looking forward to is by Diego Ramirez called Vampires of the earth at the MARS Gallery (April 27–May 20). Diego is really provocative and really smart. What he’s looking at with this exhibition about the greed of extractive capitalism and its living death is consistent with what us West Australians think about these types of things.
He worked with the gallery on our Speech Patterns publication towards the end of last year, to accompany the show by contemporary artists Nadia Hernandez and Jon Campbell, and I was just dying to see what his work looks like – and now I’ll get to see it far sooner than I realised. He contributed an essay about one of Jon’s works called What are we f—ing looking at – he did a great essay, called You’re looking at a f—ing catalogue essay, it was really witty and quite pointed, I’ll get to see that writ large in his work.
For me, Ramirez’s work hits a few touchpoints that are really relevant to this point in time.
Also: Ryan Presley’s exhibition Fresh Hell at Gertrude Contemporary (Feb 11- March 26). Obviously he’s relatively young but he’s been doing some really interesting work, I remember him back from Hatched at Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts in 2011. I’ve been watching his career develop, this show is bringing together some works he’s been doing for past 8 or 9 years, first time major solo.
This was not intentional but I realised they are both looking at things from a Catholic perspective as well, how religion and economics come together in different ways. It’s quite an interesting juxtaposition, not just as individual exhibitions.
Chris Saines, director, Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern ArtCredit:Joe Ruckli
Chris Saines, director, Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art
For many reasons, I nominate the Cairns Indigenous Art Fair (July 13–16). It draws together artists from all around remote and regional Queensland into one major show at the Cairns International Convention Centre, with other exhibitions at venues including Northside Contemporary, Cairns Regional Gallery and The Tanks at the Botanic Gardens. You move all around the town to see everything.
The calibre and the diversity you see at CIAF has grown since its inception and this year will be very exciting too. QAGOMA bought several works there last year, as do other galleries. It’s not as well known as it should be. There is an extraordinary group of art centres serving Queensland such as Aurukun, known for their camp dogs. This year there’s a new artistic director for CIAF, Francoise Lane and I’m really interested to see what she produces in 2023.
Also: The National 4, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Campbelltown Arts Centre, Carriageworks and the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, March 24–July 23.
Sydney Sunday, 1982 by Ken Done.Credit:Collection of the artist
Tony Ellwood, director, National Gallery of Victoria
My pick is Australiana: Designing a Nation at Bendigo Art Gallery (March 18–June 25), which asks us to consider who we are as Australians through more than 300 works of art, design and fashion. Ranging from the kitsch to the profound, the works explore ideas of nationhood, vernacular and popular culture, as well as the deep cultural and spiritual connection between First Nation peoples and Country.
The exhibition features treasures of Bendigo’s collection, including designs from their growing collection of Australian fashion. It also spotlights new acquisitions, including exquisite gowns by Marrithiyel fashion designer Paul McCann and Vincent Namatjira’s The Royal Tour (Vincent and Elizabeth on Country).
A highlight is certain to be a new body of work by Melbourne-based artist Kenny Pittock. For Australiana, Pittock will create 100 Australian Ice-Creams in his signature sculptural ceramic style. Through their melting forms and recognisable imagery, these irreverent sculptures conjure a sense of nostalgia for the viewer and remind us of the transience of youth – gone as quickly as an ice-cream on a 40-degree day!
I’m especially delighted that we have the opportunity to share some icons from the NGV Collection with audiences in Bendigo for this exhibition, including Shearing the rams by Tom Roberts and The movie star by Tracey Moffatt.
Catherine Opie’s Divinity Fudge, 1997.Credit:Courtesy Regan Projects
Michael Brand, director, Art Gallery of New South Wales
I’m excited that Heide Museum of Modern Art is hosting Catherine Opie: Binding Ties (April 1 to July 9), the first survey exhibition in this region of the world-renowned Los Angeles artist. It will combine key works from across her oeuvre with a focus on portraiture: early works exploring gender and sexuality; alternative conceptions of the nuclear household – chosen family portraits that transcend traditional familial ties – to more recent musings on solidarity and collective action in the face of proliferating global crises. In 1994, Heide exhibited 18 of Opie’s portraits in Persona Cognita, curated by Juliana Engberg, and the artist’s first exhibition in Australia.
I first met Opie when I was director of the J. Paul Getty Museum when she participated in OpenStudio, a project conceived for the Getty in 2009 by another Los Angeles-based artist, Mark Bradford. Other artists included Graciela Iturbide, Kerry James Marshall and Kara Walker along with Melbourne-based Jon Cattapan. I’ve been following her photography practice ever since.
Her work is held in over 60 public art museums around the world, including ours in Sydney. Opie is also chair of the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) Department of Art, and is deeply engaged with the Los Angeles arts community. Her photographs reflect her interest in current conversations about the fragility of democracy, about freedom and about queer lives.
Also: Roppongi Crossing, a triennial of Japanese contemporary art (Mori Art Museum, Tokyo, until March 26).
Adrian Villar Rojas’s Tank gallery installation The End of Imagination.Credit:Jörg Baumann
Dr Nick Mitzevich, director, National Gallery of Australia
I’m looking forward to the exhibitions in Sydney Modern, the new building that’s part of the Art Gallery of NSW. The reuse of the historic tanks, as part of the redevelopment of the gallery, provides an extraordinary, theatrical backdrop to the work of Adrian Villar Rojas in Adrian Villar Rojas: The End of Imagination.
Villar Rojas’ site-specific sculptures, combined with the scale, mood and surreal nature of the Tank will make for an unforgettable experience.
Also: Margaret Olley: Far From A Still Life leading up to her birthday in June, at the Tweed Regional Gallery and Margaret Olley Art Centre (March 22–October 8). The show will celebrate Margaret’s remarkable life and work.
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