As promised, here is the blog post on the Art Gallery of Western Australia! After my morning at the Museum, I wandered over to the Art Gallery (stopping to pat three dogs along the way) for a relaxing afternoon. Similar to Brisbane, I love how there is this cultural precinct where you can go and spend the day exploring the Museum and/or art galleries. Having this space is both very convenient but more importantly, creates this really nice hub in the city. Rather than go through some highlights from the Gallery, I really just want to focus on one particular piece. Before that, I want to share a brief history of the Gallery and also cover The West Australian Pulse 2022.
The Art Gallery of Western Australia was founded in 1895. In its first year, the Gallery acquired two artworks. I don’t know why, but I do love that part of the story. As one of the artworks was a contemporary work by George Pitt Morison, this started the Gallery’s commitment to collecting contemporary Australian art. Two years later, in 1897, the Gallery joined forces with the Museum and became the Western Australian Museum and Art Gallery. Where the WA Museum Boola Bardip is located today is where this first version of the Gallery stood. Fast forward another two years to 1899 when the Jubilee Building opened with both the Museum and Gallery inside. If you read my post on the WA Museum then you might remember the Jubilee Building was one of the restored heritage buildings now incorporated into the new museum space. The Museum and Gallery remained combined until 1959 when the Gallery said farewell to the dinosaurs and left to start its new life.
The building you can visit today opened in 1979. It is an example of late Brutalist architecture. I usually don’t care for this style but it didn’t really bother me in this context. I did adore the concrete spiral staircase in the middle of the Gallery. I found it super fascinating to read that inspiration for the design came from the Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City. One of the best museums I have ever visited!
As well as the more contemporary display space, the 1905 Perth Police Courts were restored in 1995 and transformed into an exhibition space. In 2019, the Gallery acknowledged the colonial history of this former Courthouse and jail and worked with Elders and senior members of the Whadjuk Noongar arts community to hold its first display of Aboriginal art. During my visit, The West Australian Pulse 2022 was on display.
The West Australian Pulse 2022
I had never heard of this exhibition before so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when visiting. The first thing I saw when I entered the space was an iPad where you could ‘vote for your favourite artwork’. As I made my way through the exhibition rooms I was totally transfixed by the works on display. Some tackle really intense issues such as mental health and identity. It wasn’t until I went to the iPad to vote for my favourite artwork that I saw these works were from Year 12 Visual Arts graduates from 32 schools across Western Australia. I should have read the introductory panel but I was glad I didn’t in the end. The sheer talent on display from high school students is just incredible. I struggled to pick a favourite.
In the end, I went with Candy by Finnity McHoull. It serves as a reflection on the healthcare system and how medication that states ‘keep out of reach of children is increasingly being prescribed to them. I want to directly quote the artist here from their artwork label, “the title of the artwork mirrors the gradual loss of childhood innocence as medication replaces candy.” Seriously powerful artwork.
Modern Relic X: In this Together
As I was walking around the Gallery I saw an exhibition titled the Tom Malone Prize 2021. Within this exhibition is an artwork that is so close to being one of my favourite artworks I’ve ever seen. The exhibition contains works made from glass. The actual space is very easy to navigate with heaps of room between each artwork. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw this striking blue vase that looked like an ancient Greek vase. When I walked over, the imagery became more and more clear.
The artist of this piece, Modern Relic X: In this Together, is Jessica Murtagh. According to the artist’s statement, the work is inspired by Athenian amphoras – in shape and design. The scene on the amphora relates to COVID-19 and is covered in imagery that we saw repeated each day. There are people lining up for Centrelink, ‘physical distance’ signs, news reporters interviewing people, and QR check-in codes. I’m going to include photographs of the amphora from all angles so you can see every bit of the imagery. The meaning behind this artwork is to document the shared experiences and events in history so that they are not forgotten. How it has been documented is truly stunning. There is something about this piece that really resonated with me. I think seeing the past two years of our lives so visually represented struck a chord. I hope that, in the future, this artwork is used when teaching about the pandemic and our responses to COVID-19.
The Gallery is very close to the Museum so why not have a cultural day out. It is open from 10am to 5pm daily except Tuesdays. It is free but a small donation is encouraged. If you are there on a Friday around 1pm then make sure to join a guided tour run by one of their amazing volunteers!