In Brisbane: Making Modernism opens at QAGOMA

The Making Modernism collection officially opened to visitors to the Queensland Art Gallery + Gallery of Modern Art on Saturday.

TGW attended a pleasing preview on Friday among a personable group, including the key curatorial stars responsible for the exhibition. Present was Cody Hartley, Senior Director (Collections and Interpretation), Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, Santa Fe; Denise Mimmocchi, Curator (Australian Art), Art Gallery of New South Wales; Lesley Harding, Curator, Heide Museum of Modern Art, Dr Kyla McFarlane, Acting Curatorial Manager (Australian Art) and Jason Smith, Curatorial Manager (Australian Art).

Margaret Rose Preston Western Australian gum blossom 1928 oil on canvas 55.3 x 46 cm stretcher; 55 x 44.7 cm sight; 68.4 x 58.1 x 4 cm frame Art Gallery of New South Wales Purchased 1978 © Margaret Rose Preston Estate Photo: AGNSW

Making Modernism celebrates the work of Georgia O’Keeffe’s (1887–1986) American modernist art in a unique way, when shown concurrently with the two pioneering Australian modernists Margaret Preston (1875–1963) and Grace Cossington Smith (1892–1984).  This is the culmination of a project initiated by QAGOMA’s curatorial manager of Australian Art, Jason Smith.  Smith recounts how he first made contact with Hartley in Santa Fe in order to express how fitting O’Keeffe’s “working context and verve” was for Queensland Art Gallery.  Being used to similar requests, Hartley was at first hesitant.  Yet once he realised the relevance of showing the work of all three artists synchronously – not to mention the resonance each work would bring out in comparison with the others – he agreed.  So a dialogue between Smith and Hartley began.  This included a visit to the Georgia O’Keeffe museum in New Mexico by Smith, to meet with Hartley in person among the many artworks and personal effects of O’Keeffe’s left behind, and which Hartley now oversees.  The project was further developed with the inclusion of the Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW) and Heide Museum of Modern Art for the works of Preston and Cossington Smith.

The stunning result is a showcase of the distinguished contribution made by all three women to the movement of international modernism across the span of their careers, bringing together 90 paintings (30 by each artist).  This includes works never before shown in Australia, namely O’Keeffe’s iconic paintings Storm Cloud, Lake George 1923The Black Iris 1926 and one of her most memorable skull and floral motif images, Ram’s Head, Blue Morning Glory 1938.

Just like O’Keeffe in America, Preston and Cossington Smith have long been recognised for their central role in developing modern art in Australia.

Grace Cossington Smith Landscape at Pentecost 1929 oil on paperboard 83.7 x 111.8 cm (33 x 44”) Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide © Estate of Grace Cossington Smith

All three artists ambitiously and steadfastly pursued a modernism distinct from European traditions. Their works all represented modernist visions of the culture of their respective nations, their relationship to their landscape (all three women were nature lovers)  and their own identities and sense of place.  O’Keeffe’s works represent the vast and ancient forms and lines of New Mexico, whilst Preston and Cossington Smith pursued a uniquely Australian aesthetic.  During times of great social and cultural transition (especially the 1920s and ’30s), these artists are often connected through not only their subject choices but also experimentation with light, colour and form, in presenting alternative ways of seeing the world.

The Making Modernism exhibition continues at GOMA until 11 June 2017.  Following its season at the Queensland Art Gallery, the exhibition will tour to the Art Gallery of New South Wales from 1 July to 2 October 2017.


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