Intensity and Commitment

Primavera at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney

Primavera at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney When selecting the works for this year’s Primavera exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) in Sydney, guest curator Robert Cook undertook an exploratory lap of the country on a self-prescribed mission to seek out artists who demonstrated two key characteristics in their practice: “intensity and commitment”. In setting these requirements, Cook was guided by the conditions of the space in which the exhibition would be displayed. 2013 is the first year in which the jumbo Level 1 North Gallery of the newly-renovated MCA has played host to the annual Primavera exhibition. Other than the characteristics noted above, the eight artists who were invited to join Primavera 2013 are restricted by no determinative theme, style or medium. The founding objective of the series, now in its 22nd year, is to showcase the work of Australia’s finest young artists (aged 35 years and under). While one might argue that it would have been prudent to stipulate that participating artists make at least passing reference to either hay fever or the return of barbequing season, no such condition was mandated at the establishment of the exhibition in 1992. Regardless, for curator Robert Cook, this annual show provides a vital opportunity for young artists to raise their game on the national stage, as well as offering the Australian public the chance to view contemporary works that might ordinarily only be exhibited in smaller artist-run spaces or private art galleries. As Curator of Modern and Contemporary Photography and Design at the Art Gallery of Western Australia, Cook brings a wealth of experience and a large dose of modish vitality to the role of guest curator of Primavera. When I asked Cook whether the upcoming show was designed as a synopsis of contemporary art practice in Australia, he was quick to clarify that he purposefully made no attempt at establishing an objective narrative of ‘what’s out there right now’ in this exhibition. “I was selfishly responding to things I really loved,” says Cook. Yet the eight artists whose works are displayed in this exhibition seem to span a wide range of contemporary practices; from the highly expressive paintings and sculptures of Brendan Huntley (Melbourne) to the intricately analytical and conglomerate installation work of Thomas Jeppe (Melbourne). Amongst the other artists in this show is Jacqueline Ball (Perth), who presents a series of eight large-scale photographs that serve as portals into fantastical spaces. The dimensions of these works function to immerse the viewer in the subject matter of the images, which have been physically moulded and photographed by the artist in her studio and, as a result, possess an ineffable tactility in their visual matter. The quiet ambience of Ball’s pictures stand in stark contrast to the lurid yet demonstrably elegant video works of Sydney-based artist Franco Heath, whose charming demeanour as an artistabout- town finds a series of utterly outrageous alternative identities in his artistic output. Thecharacters he portrays in his work – including the three films showing at Primavera, one of which is a brand new piece – are deviant and/or deranged, determinedly repeating phrases that function to unsettle the viewer, whilst located within carefully designed settings charged with a challenging aura of hyperrealism. This is contemporary art at its finest, as Heath uses new technology and rowdy creativity to cultivate a new crop of works for the Australian art landscape. While the works exhibited in Primavera 2013 perform together as excellent examples of contemporary Australian art, their disparateness maintains an essential level of tension in the display. For Cook, this produces a “modulated experience” for visitors to the MCA, which will invariably keep them on their toes as they move around the expansive gallery space on Level 1 of the new building at Circular Quay. Each year Primavera introduces a spring-like fertility to the cultural scene of Sydney; hotly anticipated by locals and out-of-towners alike, welcomed with eager eyes and shorter garments (although the latter consideration might be incidental to the art display). The eight individuals selected for this year’s exhibition (including Melbourne-based artists Jackson Eaton and Jess Johnson, as well as Juz Kitson and Kusum Normoyle from Sydney) maintain this tradition, whilst contributing their own idiosyncratic airs to the larger atmosphere of Primavera, currently being experienced at the Museum of Contemporary Art. Primavera 2013 shows at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, from September 12 to November 17. Images: 1. Kusum Normoyle 2. Jess Johnson – Hostile Ambient Takeover 3. Jackson Eaton 4. Jackson Eaton  

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