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GOMA Q: Contemporary Queensland Art

Gina Fairley

Does Queensland art look different? A survey by GOMA takes a first time look at practice in this northern state.
GOMA Q: Contemporary Queensland Art

Madeleine Kelly Spectra of Birds(2014-2015) in foreground with Teho Ropeyarn lino prints in rear, set a first impression for this exhibition. Photo ArtsHub.

GOMA Q: Contemporary Queensland Art is the first broad survey of current contemporary art practice in Queensland. It’s a big call for a state gallery, and one that is largely brushed aside over solo exhibitions, buy-in shows and broader themed programming.

Director of QAGOMA and co-curator of the exhibition, Chris Saines told ArtsHub: ‘It is a chance for us to focus our attention on the art being created right across Queensland and refresh our relationships with local artists.’​

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In terms of the initiative of the gallery to address the heart of art making in Queensland – including the invested research in studio visits and conversations with artists and dealers - I would give this exhibition 5 out of 5 without a wavering second thought, however, the answer is not so resounding from a visitor experience of the show.  

Saines continued: ‘These artists add significant weight and material to the Queensland art ecology and the exhibition will give Gallery visitors a deeper understanding of the Queensland art scene.’

Where the exhibition falls down is its presentation. It feels discombobulated and fractured. The conversations between the artworks at times jar and, at others, get bogged down in visual eddies. Perhaps, this is merely condition of the exhibition’s premise - the single thread that unites it is based solely on geography.

But then QAGOMA should be adept at navigating such territory, having presented exhibitions such as the Asia pacific Triennial since the early 1990s, and geography-based shows such as The China Project, Unnerved looking at the New Zealand collection holdings, and the exhibition Japanese Art after 1989, concurrent with GOMA Q

Visitors are greeted into the exhibition with a painting by Mavis Ngallametta, Wutan #2 (2014); the curators choosing a more conventional foundation of landscape, acknowledging the traditional owners of this land as the starting point to this Queensland story.

This somewhat flows into a nice pairing of painted “tetra pack” birds in a vitrine by Madeleine Kelly, Spectra of Birds (2014-2015), with a tiled-hang of a collection of lino prints by Teho Ropeyarn. Curious, was that German-born Kelly’s birds were an observation from Wollongong in NSW’s South Coast, and Ropeyarn's 'rhythms, patterns and imagery are not typical of the art of his people', says the didactic. A contemporary view of Queensland is brokered on different foundations, then, in this exhibition. Looking further tests that theory.

The hang of the first gallery, introducing this Queensland show, takes a further conceptual leap to Paul Bai’s digital print, Up / Down (sunrise / sunset) (2012), a simple work of two orange squares painted directly to the wall. It is a fabulous pun and play on the in-between spaces; the central void becoming the third spatial consideration with it implies a weighty unsaid between the polemic. Bai moved to Brisbane from China.  

Paul Bai's work makes a strong and simple statement; Photo ArtsHub

Pat Hoffie’s Team Australia (2014) sits alongside Bai, Kelly and Ropeyarn’s works further pushing and probing our understandings of place from a more critical and constructed political position.

Her installation regurgitates phrases taken from 2013 statements by Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop in response to so called Australia-Indonesia “spying scandal” interspersed with phrases coined by Australian holiday-makers carved in a Balinese temple style.​

Hoffie's installation Team Australia; Photo ArtsHub

Alfredo and Isabel Aquilizan similarly, (though less politically), look at the overlays of vernacular through the object and the convolution of diaspora communities. Their American-style Filipino jeepney has been adorned and bastardised with a kind of local baroque. Place becomes layered and reclaimed in their hands.

One of the high points of this exhibition is the way it moves across generations, geography and between Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists indiscriminately.