John Olsen
Salute to Cerberus 1965
oil on plywood
185.0 x 244.5 cm
TarraWarra Museum of Art collection
Gift of Eva Besen AO and Marc Besen AO 2001

The Triumph of Modernism

Past Exhibitions
20 June - 16 August 2015

The Triumph of Modernism is a rich and representative display of the story of modern Australian art with, in this selection, a particular and deliberate emphasis upon Australian identity. Guest curated by the former Director of the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Edmund Capon AM OBE, the exhibition spans over 70 years of Australian art and features over 60 iconic works by artists who have been instrumental in shaping the development of modern art in this country. These works have been drawn from the TarraWarra Museum of Art collection, almost all of which have been gifted to the Museum by its founders, Eva Besen AO and Marc Besen AC. Over the decades they assembled a comprehensive but still personal panorama of modern, post-World War II, Australian art, amply demonstrating in their art collecting an enduring passion for the art of Australia.

Immediately following World War II, Australian art demonstrates a determined and successful drive for independence and affirmation. In a quest to turn a nation’s back on an enervating depression of the early 1930s and the trauma of the war, the artists of the late 1940s and 1950s turned towards the Australian experience for inspiration. Following the achievement of the Heidelberg School towards the end of the 19th century in establishing an authentic and independent identity for Australian art, this heralded a ‘second-coming’ of national identity in the story of the art of Australia as artists like Arthur Boyd, Russell Drysdale, Sidney Nolan and John Perceval explored their own physical and emotional territory. Then the urban drift is captured in the works of John Brack and Charles Blackman, in Melbourne and Sydney respectively, as they observed with palpable cynicism the increasing alienation of the individual in burgeoning urban Australia. In a similar vein of exploration Nolan and Boyd inserted the human experience and drama into the uniquely Australian landscape. In contrast the emotive textures of Fred Williams and his distinctive vocabulary of inspired motifs, the gesture of Tony Tuckson, the evocative mystery of Ian Fairweather, the sheer exuberance of the mercurial Brett Whiteley and the unbridled celebration of John Olsen, heralded a mood of optimism as the story of modern art in Australia unfolded and diversified.

The shifts and patterns in the journey of modern Australian art over the last five decades are well charted in the collection; from that post war defiance and affirmation of place, to the welcoming of new and exciting notions of abstraction and expression from the United States and Europe, to the more recent times which has seen a tendency for our artists to shed that commitment to place. This more global, less distinctively Australian era, of contemporary art is alluded to in the collection through the works of, among others, Howard Arkley, Imants Tillers, and Aida Tomescu; three very different artists who do not so readily declare themselves as ‘Australian’ but explore more international concerns.

This exhibition is a partnership project between TarraWarra Museum of Art and Hazelhurst Regional Gallery & Arts Centre. The exhibition was shown at Hazelhurst Regional Gallery from 27 March – 31 May 2015.

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