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9 X 5 NOW at the VCA: more than 300 artists on board

Brooke Boland

A landmark exhibition will be held this month at the Victorian College of the Arts, with works for sale by the who’s who of Australian visual art.
9 X 5 NOW at the VCA: more than 300 artists on board

Image: Charles Green and Lyndell Brown, Insecurity (Mount Sinjar) 2014. Detail. Oil on board.

More than 300 contemporary visual artists have contributed original artworks for the 9 X 5 NOW exhibition, which runs from 16–25 June at the University of Melbourne’s Margaret Lawrence Gallery.

For collectors, the exhibition is a great opportunity to purchase an original work of art by some of Australia’s best established and emerging artists, including Rick Amor, Gareth Sansom, Jenny Watson, Louise Hearman, Lewis Miller, Peter Booth, Laith McGregor, Bill Henson, and many more. It’s also an opportunity to reflect on the show’s historical reference point.  

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View the catalogue here

In 1889 a group of artists set up one of the first artist-run initiatives in Melbourne, challenging the public's assumptions about art and playing a key role in the development of Impressionism in Australia.  

The exhibition, held at the Buxton Galleries in Melbourne, included works by Tom Roberts, Arthur Streeton, Frederick McCubbin and Charles Conder, all graduates of the National Gallery of Victoria Art School. The exhibition was the formative 9 x 5, the title a reference to the dimensions of the cigar box lids which the 189 impressionist works were painted on.

‘Melbourne is known as the artist-run initiative capital. Bus Projects, BLINDSIDE, there have always been these artist-run initiatives and the original 9 x 5 was a classic case of a group of artists getting a venue and exhibiting their work,’ said curator Dr Elizabeth Gower. 

More than 100 years later, VCA alumni are coming together this month in a tribute to the original 9 x 5 exhibition as part of ART150, a year-long program of events, interviews and expert commentary celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Victorian College of the Arts (formerly the National Gallery School). 

Artists who graduated from VCA were invited to create a work on or around a plywood board measuring the same 9 x 5 inches. 

‘The original 9 x 5 show was the forerunner to Australian Impressionism and so these exhibitions are quite significant in that they ricochet into popular culture, or into the culture of Australia. What the original 9 x 5 artists were pushing and trying to capture was life as it was in 1889. The artists today in 9 x 5 NOW are similarly responding to life today,’ said Gower. 

The works will be available to purchase at very accessible prices and have been donated by the artists to establish the VCA ART150 Fellowship, aiding the next generation of visual artists to come through the VCA.

Artist Patricia Piccinini, who has also donated a work to the show, said the exhibition establishes a continuum between the original 9 x 5 artists and those that have studied at VCA since. ‘It is a great link between all of us. I guess sometimes you can feel a bit disconnected, first with what’s gone on before, and then also with ourselves. This exhibition ties us together in this very interesting way because we use the same format as they did and because it’s the same scale. It also brings us together for a common cause, to fund this fellowship,’ said Piccinini.

‘All of the artists are VCA graduates and staff. I thought that was a lovely tradition and perhaps we can keep doing it.’

The exhibition highlights the breadth of contemporary visual arts practice, from photography and three dimensional works, to mixed-media, installation and painting. ‘Whereas the original exhibition was primarily painting as an impressionist show, this one has the contemporary spin and is quite diverse in the practices it presents,’ said Gower.

‘We could have picked 3,000 people. I had to cut it down to 350. It is quite exciting because of that; you’re looking at people who studied in the Eighties, Nineties, Two-Thousands.’

The exhibition program also includes a  floor talk with curator Elizabeth Gower who will give an account of the extraordinary process of reconnecting with VCA students from all over Australia and the world.

9 x 5 NOW runs from 16-25 June at Margaret Lawrence Gallery, Victorian College of the Arts 40 Dodds Street, Southbank, 12-5pm daily. To view the catalogue visit, https://9x5now.com

Elizabeth Gower’s floor talk is Saturday 17th June 2-3pm Margaret Lawrence Gallery. RSVP here. 

About the author

Brooke Boland is a Melbourne-based freelance writer.

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