Current Issue #488

Farewell to Flinders University City Gallery amid shifting portraits

Farewell to Flinders University City Gallery amid shifting portraits

While Flinders University City Gallery has enjoyed its run being part of the North Terrace arts precinct, the 125th exhibition at Flinders City Gallery, Head-to-Head, will be the last at the city location.

The public-facing exhibitions and programs are relocating to Flinders University’s campus at Bedford Park.

Professor Colin Stirling, President and Vice-Chancellor of Flinders University says, “… new infrastructure to support the program will ensure we continue to address social, cultural and education objectives and deliver a fresh and exciting space in which our many communities can gather, exchange ideas and meaningfully engage with art”.

Flinders University City Gallery was first established in Grote Street, Adelaide, in 1997 before moving to the larger, more prominent location within the State Library of South Australia in 2003, launching with Big Country, curated by Ian Maclean. Big Country was a collection-based show focused on landscapes. The final exhibition Head-to-Head, also a collection based exhibition, focuses on portraiture.

“Both exhibitions explore cultural identity through the lens of the collection,” says Fiona Salmon, Flinders University Art Museum Director. “The first by looking at landscape and this one taking the angle of portraiture, so there’s a conspicuous link connecting the first and last of our North Terrace shows.”

Ali Gumillya Baker, Sovereign goddess Alexis from the series Bow down to the sovereign goddess (detail), 2011, archival inkjet print, 123.5 x 82 cm, collection of Flinders University Art Museum, © courtesy the artist

Head-to-Head is a selection of 65 paintings, prints and photographs from the collection, demonstrating the evolution of portraiture in Australia from the late 19th to early 20th century. These works address the representation of Indigenous Australians, first and second generation migrants, and women – among other themes.

Like Big Country before it, which examined the realistic representation of the colonial landscape in art and how it has shaped our identity, Head-to-Head questions the representation of our national identity through portraiture. While some portraits are more traditional and representational others are more subversive and political.

Christian Thompson, Museum of Others (Othering the Explorer, James Cook) (detail), 2016, c-type print on metallic paper, 120 x 120 cm, © courtesy the artist and Michael Reid Sydney + Berlin

Through a selection of works by some of Australia’s most influential artists such as Gordon Bennett, Noel Counihan, Nici Cumpston, Julie Dowling, Fiona Foley, Emily Kame Kngwarreye, Ricky Maynard, Tracey Moffatt, Sidney Nolan, John Olsen, Mike Parr, Christian Thompson, and Hossein Valamanesh, the exhibition also highlights the choice of unusual subjects in the depiction of unlikely heroes and everyday Australians, as well as the portrayal of our social and political preoccupations in the formation of cultural identity.

More broadly, Head-to-Head speaks to the history of Flinders University’s art collection and the influences of its founding fathers, including Robert Smith, who brought together an extensive collection of Australian and European prints; Donald Brook, who established one of the nation’s few archives of post object and documentation work; and Vincent Megaw, who was the driver behind the now nationally significant Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander collections.

Eugenia Tsoulis, Bonegilla Training Centre, 1982, screenprint, colour inks on paper, edition 3/16, 75.8 x 56.8 cm, gift of the Australian Experimental Art Foundation, collection of Flinders University Art Museum, © courtesy the artist

Looking back over two decades of City Gallery programs, the Flinders collections have been the source of many exhibitions, including projects which have brought contemporary South Australian artists into conversation with historical works. The City Gallery has also been a platform for exhibitions tackling social, environmental and political issues, and for shows that have explored cross-cultural engagement between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australia.

While the plan is to continue to present challenging, educational and informative exhibitions, relocating to the Bedford Park campus will allow a greater alignment with the teaching and learning objectives of the University.

“North Terrace has afforded Finders University Art Museum excellent exposure and access for the wider public, but I am confident new infrastructure for art on campus combined with a new train line to our front door will draw people out,” says Salmon. “We look forward to building on the strengths of our exhibition program, welcoming diverse audiences, and playing a greater role in the day-to-day life of our institution.”

Head-to-Head: Shifting Perspectives in Australian Portraiture
Flinders University City Gallery
Until June 24

Header image: Installation view of Flinders University City Gallery exhibition Head-to-Head (Photo: supplied)

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