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A landmark exhibition of inches

06 Jun 2017

A landmark exhibition of inches Image

The Victorian College of the Arts’ (VCA) impact on Australia’s visual arts landscape will be put on display this month as part of a local exhibition at the University of Melbourne’s Margaret Lawrence Gallery on Dodds St.

Running from June 16 until June 25, the 9x5 NOW exhibition celebrates 150 years of art here in Southbank at the VCA as well as its predecessor institutions – a lineage that began with the establishment of the National Gallery of Victoria Art School in 1867.

The ‘9x5’ title references the original exhibition of impressionist works held at the Buxton Galleries in Melbourne in 1889. That exhibition included works from key Australian impressionist artists such as Tom Roberts, Arthur Streeton, Frederick McCubbin and Charles Condor, who were all graduates of the National Gallery of Victoria Art School.

Back then, those original artworks were painted on the back of cigar box lids, which measured at nine inches by five inches. As a fitting tribute, more than 300 eminent alumni and staff were sent nine by five inch plywood boards in the mail, which were ultimately sent back as artworks.

This has culminated into an exhibition, which will feature the works of more than 300 leading Australian artists in one room. Better yet, all works will be up for sale, with proceeds raised going towards funding a new scholarship for VCA students and recent graduates.

Director of the Margaret Lawrence Gallery Dr David Sequira said the exhibition represented a landmark for visual arts in Australia.

“In 2017 when we’re celebrating 150 years of art at the VCA having a show that connects us to that lineage is really important because they’re like our great, great grandparents!” he said.

“It’s interesting because so much of Melbourne’s contemporary art life relies upon artists who create their own exhibitions or set up their own artist run initiatives and you could argue that the 9x5 show was one of those sorts of projects in the 19th century.”

Some of the contributors to have donated artworks for the exhibition include household-alumni artists such as Bill Henson, Patricia Piccinini, Sally Smart and Rich Amor.

And while the exhibition pays homage to the influence and inspiration of the past, it also showcases the diversity of contemporary approaches to visual arts through photography, drawing, text, mixed media and painting.

“If there was ever an exhibition where you could get a glimpse of the visual arts practice in Australia over the last 50 to 60 years this will be it,” Dr Sequira said.  

“I think it’s going to be a lot of fun but I also think that apart from the fun sense of participation and even outwardly demonstrating the impact of the VCA in the rest of Australia and internationally, I think it will make very real the importance of the VCA in the broader cultural landscape.”  

The exhibition also celebrates an important sense of reunion for the artists, many of whom forged their creative talents here in Southbank and exhibition curator and contributing artist Elizabeth Gower described the response from artists as “overwhelmingly enthusiastic”.

“It’s both a privilege and a challenge to curate this significant exhibition,” she said. “Some artists have stretched the criteria and made works about the board itself, casting, cutting, manipulating and extending it three-dimensionally. It will be a milestone exhibition.”  

The exhibition program also includes artist talks, tours and a one-day symposium.

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