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All Grown Up: Australia’s Contemporary Arts World

We used to think that Australia’s contemporary art world was anything but childish. Perhaps we were wrong.

When one is asked to conjure up an image of the world’s best art galleries, we think of the Louvre, or MoMA in New York. We are unlikely to immediately think of one from Australia/The Asia-Pacific – but they’re certainly up there.

In fact, though Australia’s galleries and museums may not contain as many thousands of artefacts as those in Europe or North America, they offer their visitors a brave new world of visitor interactivity – a notion which plays a considerable part in the survival of cultural institutions as popular hubs of urban culture.


Perhaps Australia-versus-Europe comparison is unfair, considering the comparative youth of the modern Australian art culture. You see, this summer Brisbane’s Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) is ten-years-young. As GOMA celebrates its tenth birthday with activities ongoing into April, this young and exciting gallery showcases not only some of the most stimulating artists from the local, Asia-Pacific and international art worlds, but a variety of diverse experiences forward-thinking curators are using to redefine what it means to “go to an art gallery.”

Thanks to the innovative approaches applied by those such as Geraldine Barlow, GOMA’s Curator of International Art, “going to an art gallery” is no longer a dry stroll through oppressively hushed hallways, squinting to read the fine print alongside each work.


Barlow speaks enthusiastically of the success the gallery has had in using the birthday anniversary’s main exhibition – Sugar Spin: You, me, art and everything – to prove the imaginative ways contemporary art is created and how it can be enjoyed as an experience which engages more than one sense.

Hrafnhildur Arnardóttir’s work Nervescape (a touchable landscape of neon-bright synthetic hair – pictured) and others featured in these celebrations provoke awe in their use of the dramatic open spaces to fully immerse visitors in the drama of an installation.


Arnardóttir’s work, Barlow revealed, can itself be “snuggled” into in certain places, creating nooks and dimples. The bold approach of allowing art to show the wear and tear of its viewers – giving in to the naughty, slightly childish and wholly postmodern urge to turn accepted ideas on their heads – complete the picture of a gallery which believes that art and fun are not only mutually exclusive, but perhaps best enjoyed together.

But this is more than a cute theme for a tenth birthday party. GOMA has long been the envy of other states which themselves have an excellent reputation for fostering children’s interests in art with youth programs. Its specially dedicated Children’s Art Centre regularly engages exciting artists such as Arnardóttir (or “Shoppy” as kids affectionately call her) to hold workshops and create art with children using their own special materials and styles of expertise.


Standing at rightly proud at the end of its first decade, GOMA reminds us that although Australian art may be “a child” in comparison to that of other countries, it is entering a new period of maturity that will be key to art’s survival as entertainment.


Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art



Photography courtesy of QAGOMA.


This article was originally published in McGrath Magazine 11.02

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