Ethel Spowers, Harvest (detail), 1932, linocut, 19.3 x 29.1 cm, The University of Western Australia Art Collec-tion, University Senate Grant, 1982.
Cosmopolitan promises a ‘deep dive’ into the lesser-known art of the 1930s. It’s another contribution to the revisionist trend in Australian public galleries (both AGNSW and the NGV have recently taken refreshing dips into the modernism of the interwar years). What interests me is the opportunity to stretch that key word—‘cosmopolitanism’—across decades rather than attaching it to just one. Yes, media, migration and modernity made the 1930s a culturally dynamic period. But it was an ambivalent dynamism, coloured by the same fear of the modern and love of the new (as Richard White so sharply put it) that has framed Australian art in earlier and later decades. A similarly double-edged cosmopolitanism can be found in the internationalism of contemporary Australian art. Being at home in global culture has a kind of triumphalism to it; the tyranny of distance and cultural cringe are proudly dumped in quarantine bins on the way through airport security. Globalism reads as a beckoning field of professional promise, as if the world was asking us ‘Where the bloody hell are you?’ instead of the other way around. Revisiting the cosmopolitanism of the 1930s is a chance to engage with the roots of today’s geo-cultural volatility, perhaps to frame and temper our desire for the global.