Arts / Exhibition shows the ‘American masters’ of art

‘Fragment of Western Civilization’, 1972, by Robert Arneson, USA
“THIS exhibition is a testimony to 40 years of collecting”, said the new director of the National Gallery of Australia, Nick Mitzevich, this morning (August 23) as he walked them through the show, “American Masters 1940–1980”.

The show, curated by Lucina Ward, was entirely drawn from the national collecting institution, and because of that, he said, it defined not only the collection but its sophistication, revealing the building blocks of art practice over a period of 40 years.

‘Kitchen range’ by Roy Lichtenstein, 1961-62 oil on canvas
As he introduced her, Mitzevich told those present that Ward had selected over 150 works by 70 artists but “she could have filled the space four times over”.

As it is, “American Masters” will feature works by artists such as Mark Rothko, Willem De Kooning, Frank Stella, Man Ray, Andy Warhol, Robert Mapplethorpe, Yoko Ono, Cindy Sherman, Sol LeWitt, Eva Hesse, Dan Flavin, Louise Bourgeois, Barnett Newman, Chuck Close, Roy Lichtenstein, James Turrell and Jackson Pollock.

The exhibition falls into six sections, Abstract Expressionism, Colour-field, Pop, Conceptual art/Minimalism, Photo-Realism, and works based on light.

Mitzevich, standing in front of Pollock‘s “Blue Poles”, purchased in 1973 for the then-extraordinary sum of $1.3 million, said the work had become a part of Australian history.

“When it was purchased every major news bulletin had it leading the news – art was on people’s lips,” he said.

Ward recalled the infamous newspaper headline, “Drunks Did It”, but with hindsight, she said, his kind of work was unknown to most Australians at the time and it had taken a visionary like inaugural NGA director James Mollison to bring it to them.

‘Bob’ by Chuck Close, 1970, synthetic polymer paint on canvas
More than 75 per cent of the works of art in “American Masters” were purchased before the gallery opened in 1982.

It was a fact, Mitzevich cut in, that “the edge always becomes the middle ground”, and now people from all around Australia flock to see the painting.

He thanked the exhibition’s principle partner, Terra Foundation for American Art for making it possible to show “American Masters” free of charge to the public.

“American Masters 1940–1980”, NGA Temporary Exhibitions Gallery, August 24 to November 11. Free, no bookings required.

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Helen Musa
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