Artist Janet Dawson (front) and NGV curator Beckett Rozentals, with John Peart’s Corner square diagonal (rear) and James Doolin’s Artificial landscape 67-6. Photo: Penny Stephens Missing: Clement Meadmore’s small steel sculpture Wave. Photo: Penny Stephens
Missing: Noel Dunn’s Untitled, a painted steel sculpture. Photo: NGV
Do you have a pioneering abstract artwork hanging in your rumpus room or stacked in the garage?
The National Gallery of Victoria wants to hear from you. In 1968, the NGV shocked staid society by staging The Field, a radical exhibition by emerging artists, to christen its new St Kilda Road building.
It was conceptual. It was geometric. It was “a happening”. Like Andy Warhol’s New York studio, The Factory, it had silver foil walls.
In 2018, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of both the exhibition and the building, the NGV will mount The Field Revisited, for which it is seeking the original paintings and sculptures.
NGV staff have turned sleuths, scouring galleries, private collections and studios from Perth to Mildura. They have traced 60 of the 74 works, which means 14 pieces are out there, somewhere, and the NGV is calling for public help.
Curator Beckett Rozentals said 12 of the 60 found works had been destroyed. Artist Normana Wight cut up her rainbow-hued, 3.3-metre-high painting and burnt it, because “she didn’t have the space and no one wanted to buy it”.
However, along with six of The Field artists, Wight will recreate the painting for The Field Revisited.
Another artist, Trevor Vickers, exchanged one of his Field pieces, a panel painting, for a 1950s Plymouth car belonging to art world figure Sweeney Reed, but the artwork was later disassembled. Vickers will also recreate it.
It hasn’t helped NGV “detectives” that many pieces are called Untitled, and that it wasn’t cool for artists to sign their names on the front of works at that time.
The missing pieces include two small steel sculptures by Clement Meadmore entitled Curl and Wave, and Eric Shirley’s slightly psychedelic (with wavy vertical lines) polyvinyl acetate on composition board painting, Encore.
Janet Dawson, who showed two paintings in The Field and went on to win the 1973 Archibald Prize, became emotional when she learnt of the new exhibition. She said The Field was “invigorating and thrilling”, presenting the artists’ “exuberance and clarity and magnificent colour” to a wider audience.
“The abstract, non-objective work, before The Field, was boutique; you would go to a small gallery and see a major abstract painting, but the public wouldn’t see it,” Ms Dawson said.
She hopes The Field Revisited will bring the public “joy and delight and the sense of the beauty of the work, without the artists’ immediate presence. The artists live in the work in the thought and the making, but they’re not showing their hand in the work.”
NGV director Tony Ellwood said that when The Field opened on August 21, 1968, “it caused an incredible sensation by showing daring, abstract contemporary works by emerging Australian artists”.
“By restaging the exhibition 50 years on, we hope to re-examine its impact and significance in Australian art history and allow a whole new generation to experience it for themselves,” he said.
The Field Revisited will open in May 2018 at the The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia.
A full list of the works is at ngv.melbourne/findthefield. Anyone with information about a work can email [email protected]论坛
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