Review: GOMA Q at GOMA
If I want to see contemporary Queensland art, I usually plan a trip to a local University art museum or an artist run initiative. So when I found out the Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) was curating an exhibition of contemporary Queensland artists, I was a somewhat surprised. As Queensland’s leading contemporary art institution, GOMA is better known for drawing people in with its blockbuster international exhibitions such as the Asia Pacific Triennial, rather than its focus on contemporary Queensland art practice. Excited at the prospect of seeing an exhibition comprising solely contemporary Queensland artists in our major modern art institution, I set off to see GOMA Q: Contemporary Queensland Art shortly after it opened.
This inaugural GOMA Q exhibition is the first in a series of exhibitions that responds to common criticism that QAGOMA lacked a strong focus on current Queensland artists. During the lead up to the exhibition, Chris Saines, Director of GOMA, and curators Peter McKay and Bruce McLean visited around 200 studios to gain a deeper understanding of the current Queensland art landscape. The result: a timely exhibition that showcases local talent, both big and small, and the nature of Queensland art today.
I walked into GOMA Q without much prior knowledge of the exhibition. I expected the curators to show well-known and established Queensland artists that you can often see in major galleries around Australia. Rather, I was challenged by a diverse, and refreshing, range of emerging and established artists from both regional and urban Queensland. I was particularly impressed by the quantity of exhibiting emerging artists like Clark Beaumont, Monica Tohan, Liam O’Brien, Teho Ropeyarn, Dale Harding, and Tyza Steward.
Monica Rohan is an emerging artists and one of Brisbane’s rising stars who is already represented by Jan Murphy Gallery, Brisbane and Sophie Gannon Gallery, Melbourne. Her beautifully rendered and intricate paintings aim to visually communicate what it feels like to be overwhelmed. Her paintings convey female figures twisted in chaotic and colourfully patterned quilts that seem to weigh the figures down. The juxtaposition between the beautiful, delicate quits and the obvious struggle of the figures creates a sense of tension and suffocation. It’s not surprising that these strikingly beautiful works front the GOMA Q catalogue!
The proliferation of highly talented Queensland Indigenous artists is evident with a strong Indigenous representation at GOMQ Q. One of my favourite works is Vernon Ah Kee’s acontentedslave (2015), which is part of his shield surfboards series. Ah Kee started creating shield surfboards as a response to the 2005 Cronulla riots. acontentedslave looks at dehumanisation throughout the history of slavery. A group of six surfboards float in the gallery space. On one side you can see bold Indigenous markings against a red background; on the other side is large, disjointed text that tells a confronting quote by Frederick Douglass. Ah Kee’s work chillingly highlights racial attitudes towards slavery in the 1800s and reminds us of racial landscapes that still affect many today.
The boldness of work by emerging Indigenous artist, Teho Ropeyarn also stood out. Ropeyarn is from the Injinoo community based in the Northern Peninsula Area of Cape York. His large-scale, bold linocuts and vinyl relief prints bring a contemporary edge to stories, old knowledge and ceremonial designs passed down from the Injinoo Elders.
Of course, the exhibition would not be complete without well-known Brisbane artist Michael Zavros’s photographic-like paintings. His works are always rendered with such realism; he captures light so accurately, they are absolutely breathtaking. Even at close hand, it’s hard to believe that Zavro’s portrait of his daughter Phoebe is Eight/ Tom Ford (2013) is actually an oil painting. In his artist statement, Zavros describes Phoebe’s direction in their shared portraiture sessions, confirming his daughter’s strong personality that shines through in this portrait.
GOMA Q did not assert unifying curatorial themes. Instead, the exhibition simply offers insight into a slice of Queensland’s talented practicing artists. The display of contemporary Queensland artists is important in and of itself, and what this exhibition really does is encourage important discussions around how Queensland needs to show more support and nurture its talented artists. An exhibition like GOMQ Q in Queensland’s leading institution builds a new audience for the state’s artists, while strengthening Queensland’s creative landscape. If you’re a Queenslander, I recommend visiting this exhibition; after all, there’s nothing more refreshing and inspiring than seeing what’s going on in your own backyard. If you’re visiting Queensland from overseas and interstate, come and see what Queensland has to offer.
You can catch GOMA Q at QAGOMA until 11 Oct 2015. For more information click here.
Photography was allowed in this exhibition. All works attributed to artists