The Field Revisited: A guide to its unofficial satellite exhibitions
Both landmark and controversial, The Field, held at the National Gallery of Victoria in 1968, showcased Australian artists working in a hard-edged abstract geometric style. Marking a shift away from figurative and landscape painting with local ‘Australian’ characteristics, The Field reflected international formalist trends. To mark the 50th anniversary, the NGV has restaged the exhibition as faithfully as it can in The Field Revisited (for further information see our feature Revisiting the Field). To coincide, a number of local Melbourne galleries have programmed complimentary shows. Most explore the influence of The Field on contemporary art practice, especially abstract art made today, often infused with colour that pops. Others are solo, collaborative and group presentations by artists who were originally in The Field, while one exhibition functions as institutional critique, questioning the restaging an exhibition in which only three of the 40 artists are woman. Below is a guide to these satellite exhibitions.
Running across a private house museum, a university gallery, a project space, and two commercial galleries, Abstraction TwentyEighteen is an umbrella for multiple exhibitions highlighting the influence of The Field on 125 artists from around Australia, with the inclusion of some historic works.
The developer of Abstraction TwentyEighteen, artist Stephen Wickham, says, “Our show is a reflection, a celebration of The Field, and it also looks at what’s happening in non-objective and abstract painting today.” The exhibitions include artists who have practiced for decades, and those fresh out of art school, and encompass a range of approaches. “The show that I’ve put together with the other folk reflects back, but more through the lens of where we are in the contemporary world,” says Wickham.
Abstraction TwentyEighteen at Justin House Museum is compiled from works from the Justin’s personal collection with a strong emphasis on objective abstraction, and a smattering with minimal and conceptual concerns. Also at JAHM, and tying into The Field Revisited, is Black and White and Red All Over a show that explores the polarities of black and white in abstract art.
Colour Fields, also part of Abstraction TwentyEighteen, features artworks from the Deakin University collection by key artists included in the original exhibition, complemented with works by contemporary artists. Langford 120 are presenting a group exhibition and solo show by Wayne Conduit, and Five Walls is presenting an exhibition of 34 artists curated by Aaron Martin, PJ Hickman, and Patricia Todarello.
Abstraction 17: A Field of Interest, c. 1968 includes works from the period of The Field but takes a broader approach, including artists that were overseas at the time, who were overlooked, or not on the radar. This includes Margaret Worth, who shared a studio with Sydney Ball (who was in The Field) and retouched vintage works from 1968 by Janet Dawson and Nigel Lendon.
Alun Leach-Jones, who participated in The Field exhibition, passed away last year. While still working with hard-edged forms and strong colours, this series of paintings, the last made by the artist, show a medley of shapes in an exuberant visual dance.
Clement Greenberg, the American critic who helped shape Modernism, visited Melbourne in the 1960s and he dished out praise for Dick Watkins. This show of Watkins’s recent paintings displays his move to loose abstract-expressionist anarchic forms.
Finding the Field is an exhibition by Natalie Thomas in conjunction with the Women’s Art Register. Thomas, of the blog Natty Solo, questions why an institution is restaging an exhibition in which only 3 of the 40 artists are women. The show also speaks to the importance of the Women’s Art Register which is approaching its own 50th birthday. Thomas has produced ‘protest posters,’ often satirical gestures, exhibited alongside slides from the Women’s Art Register’s archives.
Two exhibitions at Margaret Lawrence Galleryexplore the power of colour in contemporary abstract art. Monochrome: Empty & Full reflects on the monochrome, its continuing relevance and its dual, sometimes competing origins: the quest for a mystical experience and emphasis on the materiality of the object.
In a solo show, UK based artist and writer David Batchelor explores the immersive qualities of colour, light and text.
Nigel Lendon, who exhibited in The Field, is collaborating with an early career artist Lucina Lane at Neon Parc City. Titled Teach the kids to strike, together they will show solo and collaborative works that examine the relationship between art making and collective political movements in the past and present.