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Approaching Decoration: Works from the MCA Collection

Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (MCA)


09 Mar 1999 to 24 Oct 1999


Enrico Baj, Tony Clark, Juan Davila, Lise Floistad, Keith Haring, Louise Hopkins, Huang Chin-ho, Narelle Jubelin, Anne-Marie May, Anna Opperman, Stieg Persson, John Power, Elizabeth Pulie, Zabunian Sarkis, Yinka Shonibare, Imants Tillers, Constanze Zikos


Linda Michael

About the exhibition

‘It is decoration and decorative art that really moves me most.’ – John Power

Approaching Decoration examined the decorative in art. Curator Linda Michael took her cue from the above comment by John Power, the expatriate Australia artist whose bequest to the University of Sydney established the collection out of which the MCA eventually emerged, and from an interest in the decorative elements of post-modern art.

Because decoration is often associated with domestic and other ‘minor’ art forms, it has been perceived as lacking the authority and criticality of much modern art. In this exhibition Enrico Baj and Zabunian Sarkis adopted this idea, using decorative materials to parody the pretensions of the people they depicted.

Other works in the exhibition were unashamedly decorative, from John Power’s elaborately framed, colourful paintings, to the joyful exuberance of works by Elizabeth Pulie and Keith Haring.

More ambiguous in their approach were works by Tony Clark, Anne-Marie May, Imants Tillers and Stieg Persson. They combined decorative and formal elements, high and low art forms, organic and geometric forms to create works of formal impurity.

Narelle Jubelin, Constanze Zikos and Yinka Shonibare explored the rich cultural signification of particular forms of ornament. Their use of pattern and materials revealed the displacements of meaning created through colonisation, trade or migration.