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Australian Perspecta 1999: Living Here Now - Art / Politics

Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (MCA)


20 Aug 1999 to 08 Nov 1999


Gordon Bennett, Adam Cullen, Elizabeth Gertsakis, Derek Kreckler, Tony Schwensen


Linda Michael

About the exhibition

Australian Perspecta was a biennial event started by the Art Gallery of New South Wales in 1981 to showcase Australian contemporary art. In 1997, the biennial expanded from the Art Gallery to exhibit in a number of venues across Sydney, including the MCA and the Australian Centre for Photography. Each venue displayed its own separately curated exhibition which addressed an overarching theme.

For Australian Perspecta 1999, each curator was asked to address the theme Living Here Now – Art / Politics, taking a critical look at contemporary Australian nationhood and testing the limits of Australian nationalism.

The MCA component of the biennial was curated by Linda Michael, and subtitled Preamble. Five Australian artists whose works emerged from a specifically Australian context were selected: Gordon Bennett, Adam Cullen, Elizabeth Gertsakis, Derek Kreckler and Tony Schwensen. The exhibition aimed to get underneath the skin of what it means to be in Australia, with an honesty that revealed itself through humour and contradiction. The artists were engaged with issues that underpinned the politics of the time: nationalism, globalism, racism, multiculturalism and republicanism.

The exhibition took as its premise Prime Minister John Howard’s constitutional preamble. While it was a statement of national identity, issues of reconciliation remained unresolved. The artists in this exhibition recognised that new social and political models were needed to sustain them – models that did not claim a present devoid of history, but instead revealed complex histories. Their works explored these ideas through recasting mythic figures (such as Ned Kelly), or questioning the structures of identification within Australian culture.