Museum of Brisbane: City in the Sun

Last night, I had the wonderful opportunity to visit the Museum of Brisbane’s (MoB) new exhibition, City in the Sun, with the South East Queensland Registrars Network. We were so fortunate to have a Curator-led tour through the exhibition presented by Miranda Hines. MoB is a wonderful museum in the heart of Brisbane, located in our City Hall. Rotating exhibitions tell the story of Brisbane from a diversity of perspectives. City in the Sun is one of the newest exhibitions held by the Museum and it will be the focus of this blog post.

City in the Sun

The aim of this exhibition is to ‘uncover and reimagine Queensland’s subtropical image.’ Queensland is often depicted as a gateway to the tropics, overflowing with pineapples, frangipanis, and mangoes. According to the exhibition’s introductory panel, the image of Brisbane, in particular, as a warm and humid tropical climate was first utilized in the early 20th century. This was by organizations such as the Queensland Government Tourist Bureau to promote the city to the world. Contemporary artworks and historical images work together in the exhibition to both challenge visitors and spark their imaginations.

Combining the impact of migration, tourism, climate, environment and geographical location, visitors are encouraged to think about this image of Queensland and whether or not it continues to be suitable. Visitors are also asked to consider who is missing from these images – what depiction of Queensland is absent. This is something that the contemporary artists responded to in order to create their artworks and an image of Queensland that’s more reflective of our diversity.

The mix of contemporary commissioned artworks and historical film/imagery strikes a nice balance as you feel you are walking into a timeline that’s not strictly chronological but invites exploration. The contemporary pieces are there to provide commentary on the historical imagery and serve new interpretations of the State and its broader portrayal.

Before selecting a few of my favourite works, I want to start with a brief overview of the exhibition.

Overview of Exhibition

As soon as you enter the exhibition you are greeted by the introductory panel on a bright yellow wall. This wraps around to a giant screen showing a film about Brisbane released in 1954 called ‘Brisbane: City in the Sun’. If you have time, watch the entire film from start to finish. It is a fantastic time capsule of what the city looked like in the past!

The rest of the exhibition is quite spaced out with one large central room and a smaller room at the back. There is no correct pathway through the exhibition. When I first entered the space I just walked over to anything that caught my eye. The first two objects I was immediately drawn to are as follows:

1. Scott Redford, Proposal for Gold Coast Public Sculpture, Pink Poodle 1, 2017

If you’ve read any of my blog posts before, you’d know that I absolutely adore the retro, mid-century aesthetic. For this reason, as soon as I saw the pink poodle sign I had to learn more. This artwork is in reference to the Pink Poodle Motel that once operated in Surfers Paradise. Unfortunately, the motel was demolished in 2004 with its neon sign the only thing remaining. The finished sculpture would, according to Redford, sit on the highway between the Gold Coast and Brisbane notifying drivers that they are leaving the sunny vibrant Gold Coast for the more urban feel of Brisbane.

2. Easton Pearson, Skalli Dress and Belt, 2013

I love pineapples almost as much as the mid-century aesthetic. A couple of years ago now MoB received a huge donation from Dr Paul Eliadis creating the Easton Pearson Archive. For those unaware, Pamela Easton and Lydia Pearson launched their fashion label in 1998 while living in Brisbane. Their brand is known to have a certain ‘Brisbane-ness’ element to it, meaning the prints and designs always felt a bit tropical and exotic. This is a stunning dress and it’s one of the first objects you see when you enter the space.

Before moving on to some other objects, I want to take a moment to talk about the round room in the centre of the main space. Inside this room is an installation. The outside is wrapped in a collage of historical Queensland images. Nestled amongst the images are some labels asking questions such as ‘who are these images for?’ and ‘who’s missing?’ The latter is particularly important as it discusses the White Australia Policy and how that impacted on creating an image of Queensland that was, above all else, Anglo-European.

Other Works

1. Samuel Tupou, Day at the Beach, 2021

This is a fantastic work by Tupou who plays with pixels and patterns to create works that come more into focus the further away you stand. This specific work is based on a tourist brochure from the 1950s romanticising the poolside/seaside life. It has then been overlayed with a pattern inspired by the architecture of the Story Bridge.

2. Sebastian Moody, Sunshine Psychology, 2021

The large colour-changing neon sign spelling the words ‘sunshine psychology’ dominates a wall of the exhibition. Its hypnotic effect is meant to reflect how marketing works on people – pretty colours, shiny object kind of vibe. It is a commentary on how Brisbane, and I paraphrase from the exhibition label, has a claimed monopoly over the sun.

3. Tracey Moffatt, First Jobs series, 1975-1978

When I first saw these four works I thought they were beautiful and so full of pastel-coloured goodness. Then, when I read the label, I loved them even more. These four artworks depict the first jobs that Tracey Moffatt and her friends had in 1970s suburban Brisbane. They are archival prints that have been hand-coloured. The use of bright ‘candy’ colours is supposed to idealise the otherwise mundaneness of the jobs and reflects looking at the world through the, less cynical, eyes of your younger self.

Conclusion

There are, of course, so many more artworks to explore in this exhibition. I haven’t even mentioned the installation which shows your body heat rising from your hands. I do hope that you have the chance to visit and explore. The exhibition is open from Tuesday to Sunday between 10am and 5pm. Entry is free and both the Museum and exhibition are accessible.

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