Looking back at 2017


It’s an almost impossible task to pick one exhibition from a rich and varied year of visual arts offerings. While everyone is moved, motivated, challenged and impressed by different things we put the challenge to a number of curators, artists and directors to nominate their favourite show for 2017.  From large-scale surveys to experimental works, and the joys of uncovering a show while travelling, the reasons for memorable art viewing will no doubt strike a chord.

Reuben Keehan: Curator of Contemporary Asian Art, QAGOMA, Brisbane

“It would be hard to go past Sunshower: Contemporary Art from Southeast Asia 1980s to Now, a sprawling survey at the Mori Art Museum and the National Art Center Tokyo. With an unwieldy curatorium and a strict diplomatic framework, it was not without its limitations, but even if its organisation felt uneven at times, it was infused with the energy, invention and diversity of practice in Southeast Asia. The involvement of a new generation of artists and researchers was a huge attraction, and it felt like a watershed in terms of public awareness of Southeast Asian art in other parts of Asia.

The question now, as artists from the region circulate with increasing cosmopolitan currency, is whether the art will get the historical and curatorial attentiveness it deserves, rather than being the latest market and institutional fad.”

Sunshower, 2017, Mixed media, installation view: “SUNSHOWER: Contemporary Art from Southeast Asia 1980s to Now,” Mori Art Museum, Tokyo, 2017. Photo: Kioku Keizo. Photo courtesy: Mori Art Museum, Tokyo.

Roy Ananda: Artist, Writer and Educator, Adelaide

My favourite show of 2017 was the massively ambitious Domestic Arts by Sera Waters, held at Adelaide’s ACE Open during the South Australian Living Artists festival. This exhibition negotiated such fraught and treacherous terrains as colonialism, family history and the gendering of domestic craft practices with surety, sensitivity and scholarly rigour.

Sera Waters, Boundary Wreath (2017), installation view, found woollen needleworks, wool, velveteen, beanfill, hooks, 210 x 130cm. Photograph by Grant Hancock, courtesy the artist and Hugo Michell Gallery.

Sally Clarke: Artist and Co-Director of AirSpace Projects, Sydney

While 2017 began with the Singapore Biennale and an immersion into spectacular but ruthlessly stratified India, the rest of the year was a case of waiting for the world to come to me due to the demands of running and incorporating AirSpace Projects. Spending way too much time on the human/computer interface, a plunge into Pipilotti Rist’s Sip My Ocean provided the perfect antidote. It activated and massaged my senses. It was nurturing, defiant, hysterical, nostalgic, sensuous and funny. Sip My Ocean was a shared and connective experience that rekindled my affection for humanity. I became acutely aware of the people around me. I shared beds with strangers, something I haven’t done for decades. I entered spaces full of entranced toddlers who, as a result, I immediately adored. I observed adults in Pipilotti’s not-so-private domestic wonderlands lounging, playing and uninhibitedly peeping into holes. Pipilotti not only transforms real life into art, she transforms humans into likeable and curious creatures.

Pipilotti Rist, Gnade Donau Gnade2, from the Mercy Garden Family, 2013–15, installation view, Komm Schatz, wir stellen die Medien um & fangen nochmals von vorne an, Kunsthalle Krems, Krems, Austria, 2015, courtesy the artist, Hauser & Wirth and Luhring Augustine © the artist, photograph: Lisa Rastl.

Julie Ewington: Independent Writer, Curator, Broadcaster, Sydney

From a very rich field, my local choice is Jenny Watson: The Fabric of Fantasy. Some retrospectives change minds and win hearts. This show is one: so many people have told me it has changed their opinion of Watson’s work. From the 1970s to the present, this terrific show explores Watson’s intransigent girlie-ness, her commitment to her distinctive view of life. The painting is wonderfully varied, the tone often droll, and emotionally rich. And internationally, Doris SalcedoPalimpsest, Reina Sofia, Madrid. In a huge sunlit glass room, Salcedo’s invocation of the names of refugees drowned while fleeing across the Mediterranean was heart-stopping. Names bubbled up in droplets of water from the floor, then vanished as unpredictably. This thoughtful elegy is unforgettable.

Jenny Watson, I’ve got a dirty pig on my mind, 2013, oil paint on cotton, grounded with rabbit skin glue frame. Image courtesy the artist, Galerie Transit, Mechelen and Verlag für zeitgenössische Kunst und Theorie © the artist. Photograph: Bert de Leenheer.

Patrice Sharkey: Director of West Space, Melbourne.

My favourite exhibition for 2017 was Moments Today by Trevelyan Clay at Melbourne’s Neon Parc. Featuring 13 new oil paintings (all 2017), this was Clay’s first comprehensive presentation in a number of years and, while it harked back to his casual, offhand sensibility and brilliant colour palette, it also marked a more mature and expansive sense of play. Working exclusively in abstraction, his exploration of shape, colour, patterning and texture produced a body of work that expertly oscillated between seduction, illusion and awkwardness. The best show by a painter making paintings I’ve seen in a long time.

Trevelyan Clay, Moments Today. Courtesy of Neon Parc.

Jane Clark: Senior Research Curator at MONA — Museum of New and Old Art — Hobart, Tasmania

I was lucky enough to be in Milan for Dentro CaravaggioInside Caravaggio. The exhibition brought together 20 masterpieces—from London, Barcelona, New York, Detroit and elsewhere in the USA, Florence, Naples, Cremona; even one canvas taken down from a church altar in Rome, brought as close to view as it’s ever been since it left the artist’s studio. But that’s not all. X-rays revealing his techniques, after many years of collaborative research, were displayed and explained near to (but never intruding on) the paintings. Such revelations! (Working closely with conservators is among the most exciting and informative things I do myself as a curator and art historian.)

Caravaggio’s dramatisation, temporalisation and instrumentalisation of light presages cinema—seems so contemporary. The way he conveys his protagonists’ humanity, convincing us we’re all the same—with universally evolved emotions, instincts, cognitive biases—makes him thrillingly relevant to Mona’s fascination with what it is to be human.

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, San Francesco in estasi, 1598-1599, oil painting on canvas, 92 x 128 cm – Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, CT. The Ella Gallup Sumner and Mary Catlin Sumner Collection Fund – Photograph Allen PhillipsWadsworth Atheneum.

Graham Mathwin: Artist and Writer, Perth

This year has seen some incredible shows, but I cannot write about the best show of the year without first saying that this year has ended with the tragic closure of Moana Project Space in its current iteration. A worthy year of excellent art to go out with, and Alex Hobba’s A conversation from their cycle of shows comes a close second in my favourite shows. But if I am to choose, then Jacobus Capone‘s work for the Perth International Arts Festival, Forgiving Night for Day, is triumphant. A slow and graceful seven channel audiovisual installation that traversed the rooms of PICA‘s main gallery spaces, the work was further demonstration of Capone’s prowess, and powerful ability to transform the world into poetry. This time it was employing the backdrop of Lisbon, and the traditional Portuguese musical form of the Fado, sung by seven singers to the dawning day. By turns uplifting and melancholic, it was my favourite show of the year – real magic.

Jacobus Capone, Forgiving Night for Day, (video still), 27:20. Image courtesy the artist.

Serena Bentley: Curator at ACMI, Melbourne

For sheer joy and exuberance, you can’t go past Pipilotti Rist’s solo exhibition Sip My Ocean at the MCA in Sydney. The Swiss artist has transformed the institution’s sometimes tricky spaces in a way I haven’t experienced before. Viewers are taken on a playful, labyrinthine journey that spans the length and breadth of Rist’s practice. There are early single channel video works from the 1980s; double projections like Ever is Over All featuring the now iconic imagery of a woman cheerily smashing car windows with her red hot poker; and immersive installations such as Your Room Opposite the Opera. The latter is composed of fourteen individual works made between 1994 and 2017 and includes a rather magnificent chandelier comprised of generously sized undies; a beacon of the artist’s distinctive sense of humour.  For me, a good show is measured by how long you stay in it, and I was immersed in Rist’s sensory, sensual world for hours.

Muda Mathis & Pipilotti Rist, Japsen (still), 1988, single-channel video, sound, colour, courtesy the artists, Hauser & Wirth and Luhring Augustine © Muda Mathis, Pipilotti Rist.

Léuli Eshraghi: Artist and Curator visiting unceded Kulin Nation Territory 

For the last five centuries, Euro-American and Asian strategic and commercial desires have played out in the Moananuiākea, Great Ocean continent, particularly in undermining Indigenous sovereignties. Ko Honolulu Hō‘ike‘ike Hana No‘eau o nā Lua Makahiki, the first Honolulu Biennial, curated by Fumio Nanjo and Ngahiraka Mason, did not shy away from these realities. They presented a biennial that centred local place, global connections histories. Most of the artists – Indigenous/settler/displaced/visiting – presented work critical of military and tourist presence, and witness to ecological collapse. Colonial capitalist tropes of tropical paradise and limitless entertainment were explored, as were the poisoning of lands, waters, and bodies for non-Indigenous benefit. The incredible genuineness of the interactions, the positivity and warmth of the relationships made, and the future focus of all our conversations during the opening week made this Biennial special. Future editions will surely build on the Asian and Great Ocean focus to reach significant audiences in the archipelago in Hawaiian, Japanese and English.

Sama Alshaibi, Wasl (Union), video stills, from the project Silsila, 2016, courtesy of the artist and Ayyam Gallery. Courtesy of the artists and the Honolulu Biennial Foundation

Sally Ross: Artist, Melbourne

I loved I ❤ Pat Larter at Neon Parc Brunswick in Melbourne – a sexy, intelligent show. Larter’s work looked fresh as a daisy amidst the inter-generational powwow. Archival material and cool stuff– with great pieces by Lisa Radford, Jan Lucas, Blair Trethowan and Mike Brown et al. Larter’s ´fuzzy wuzzy’ abstraction, her physical embodiment of female desire, the way she used her body was more interesting to me than some of the well meaning femmo shows that I found a little too didactic.  Curated by Geoff Newton, I ❤ Pat Larter allowed the art and artists to do the heavy lifting.

I ❤ Pat Larter, Neon Parc, Brunswick. Installation view. Image courtesy Neon Parc.

Peter Alwast: Artist, Canberra

In June of this year I was living in Hamburg and was looking at the Hamburger Kunsthalle‘s hang of salon paintings from the late 19th Century. Scenes of ‘great’ men, ‘important’ events and mythical displays populated these works, which essentially legitimise hierarchies that bestow subject matter worthy of glory and importance, at the exclusion of others. After observing these paintings I then turned the corner of the museum to encounter Gustave Courbet‘s The Grotto of the Loue from 1864, and the painting completely overwhelmed me. The painting’s radicality still resonates in the present, not to mention its completely anachronistic affect in relation to salon painting of that time. The two gaping voids towards the centre deflect access to ‘the source’ or the origin of the river Loue. Worth thinking about in the context of current populist and revisionist narratives – you can’t go back in time or make a river flow backwards.

Gustave Courbet (Ornans (Doubs) 1819 – 1877 La Tour-de-Peilz (Lake Geneva)), The Grotto of the Loue, 1864, oil on canvas, 98 x 130.5 cm. Hamburger Kunsthalle, acquired in 1913.

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Feature Words by Art Guide Australia