The title Destination Sydney may read like something lifted from a tourist brochure—and indeed we are invited to travel across the city to three galleries to see the show—but what is on offer in this third and final iteration of the exhibition is not ‘classic postcard views’ of the harbourside metropolis. Instead, a curatorial team of three women presents nine female artists: Joan Ross, Fiona Lowry and Merran Esson at Manly Art Gallery & Museum; Janet Laurence, Caroline Rothwell and Robyn Stacey at Mosman Art Gallery; and Bronwyn Oliver, Juz Kitson and Jennifer Keeler-Milne at S.H. Ervin Gallery. Together these artists use painting, photography, sculpture and ceramics to reflect on the natural world.
For instance, Robyn Stacey literally turned her back on the iconic view made famous by Brett Whiteley when Stacey photographed Whiteley’s home at Lavender Bay. In Wendy and Brett Whiteley’s Library, 2016, Stacey used a camera obscura to cast an inverted harbour bridge across shelves of books, combining, as senior curator Kelly McDonald puts it, “Sydney’s natural environment and artistic life in one image.”
Meanwhile Joan Ross infuses the harbour with fluorescent yellow, like a toxic spill, in her print Please don’t pick the flowers, 2019. She highlights the poisonous legacy of settler culture. “Her artworks cleverly subvert our view of Sydney,” explains senior curator Katherine Roberts. “They examine the imposition of colonialism in Australia, especially concerning its effect on Indigenous Australians, drawing attention to the complex and ongoing issues surrounding first contact.”
And as we venture out once again, Destination Sydney also accommodates a sense of optimism. Director of S.H. Ervin Gallery Jane Watters says that Jennifer Keeler-Milne’s painting Spring Wattle II, 2021, “captures the exuberance of the flowering wattle which, after a challenging two years, almost reflects rebirth following the darkness of lockdown.”
Destination Sydney: The natural world
Manly Art Gallery & Museum, Mosman Art Gallery and S.H. Ervin Gallery
4 January—20 March
This article was originally published in the January/February 2021 print edition of Art Guide Australia.