Painting. More Painting

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For the first major survey of contemporary Australian painting in a decade, the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art took an unexpected curatorial cue. While discussing the two-part exhibition, titled Painting. More Painting, ACCA curator Annika Kristensen mentions the phone book.

For the show, more than 60 Australian painters will have their works hung on a 90-metre-long wall mural by Sam Songailo in ACCA’s main gallery, with surnames starting with A to L arrayed in alphabetical order in the first chapter (29 July to 28 August), and M to Z in the second (1 to 25 September).

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Helen Johnson, Barron Field, 2016, installation view. Courtesy the artist and Mary Mary, Glasgow.

“We’re not really sure what kind of relationships will emerge until those paintings are hung next to one another,” says Kristensen, who developed the show with artistic director Max Delany and associate curator Hannah Mathews.

 A phone book is an apt analogy as far the alphabetical ordering is concerned, but it would be fairer to describe ACCA’s approach as encyclopedic, appropriate given the sheer breadth of the subject matter. In the equivalent of more extensive entries, or even appendices, the side galleries will host solo presentations by 14 Australian painters, two or three to a room.

After all, there’s a lot of catching up to do. The last 10 years have seen a renewed interest in painting, a development Kristensen attributes in part to a backlash against the overwhelming immediacy of images offered by social media.

That said, Kristensen is quick to emphasise that the exhibition, unlike an encyclopedia, is not meant as an authoritative way to wrap up and close the book on the topic.

“It’s a starting point of a conversation, a leading point,” she says, “and we hope there’s much more discussion to be had both in and around the show and extending from the show as well.”

Painting. More Painting
Australian Centre for Contemporary Art
29 July – 25 September

Toby Fehily