Arts / ‘Landmark exhibition’ celebrates 20 years

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Jack Britten, Untitled, 2000
A LANDMARK exhibition in the history of Canberra’s visual arts opened to the public over the weekend.

The show, “Celebration: 20 years of collecting visual art at CMAG”, curated by Canberra Museum and Gallery senior curator of visual arts, Deborah Clark, unveils the full range of visual art at the Museum and Gallery, representing artists from Canberra itself, the southern tablelands, the Monaro plains and several towns and villages.

The focus at the raison d’etre of the CMAG has been to reflect both the creative breadth of its artists and the historical context of art in the Canberra region through painting, printmaking, photography, sculpture, ceramics, glass, metalware and jewellery, textiles, and furniture, seen in works created by 167 artists.

Jaishree Srinivasan’s ceramic ‘Vanity Box’, 1995.
Some artists included in the show are Marie Hagerty, Joseph Lycett, George Ingham, Steven Holland, Julie Bradley, Frances Philip, Studio Haçienda, Julian Laffan, Ben Edols & Kathy Elliott, Kate Stevens, Klaus Moje, Jaishree Srinivasan, Frank Hinder, Alison Alder, Marlene Juli, Toni Robertson, Marcia Lochhead Luna Ryan, Andrew Sayers, Jörg Schmeisser, Erica Seccombe And Udo Sellbach.

Director of CMAG, Shane Breynard said that the over 6500 objects acquired embraced “our Canberra identity and sense of place”. He noted that each object had been collected for perpetuity and was managed “with the utmost care”.

The work on show, he said, proceeded from the very first purchases in 1996, like Jaishree Srinivasan’s ceramic “Vanity Box” from 1995, through to only recently gifted objects to the collection such as Frank Hinder’s lithograph “Office staff, Canberra”, 1942.

Works of art on show range from Joseph Lycett’s hand coloured aquatint “View of Lake George, New South Wales”, 1825, to Dianne Fogwell’s linocut “Encounter”, 2017.

Breynard praised the many hundreds of donors, many of whom were present for Friday’s opening by ACT Arts Minister Gordon Ramsay and director of Geelong Gallery Jason Smith, who had gifted works of art and funds to help grow the collection. Of the 186 works of art in “Celebration”, representing 167 artists, more than half have been acquired through donation or purchased with donated funds.

Frank Hinder’s lithograph ‘Office staff, Canberra, 1942
In an essay accompanying the show, Clark explained that the CMAG was a youthful institution but one of “crucial importance in setting the scene for an understanding of the rich composite visual culture in and around our nation’s capital”.

While in selecting “an integrated collection” of works she had borne in mind both contemporary visual art practice and historical works of art about the Canberra region, like the aforementioned Lycett work and the works of Elioth Gruner, the Australian landscape painter who worked in the wider Canberra region in the 1920s and 1930s.

Clarke paid special tribute to the ANU School of Art and Design, whose establishment in the 1970s had enriched the visual arts of the region.

Key names associated with the school, she said, included its founding director Udo Sellbach, who fostered the teaching of visual art based on the European “workshop” model, head of printmaking Jörg Schmeisser, head of graphic investigation Petr Herel, head of glass Klaus Moje, head of wood George Ingham, head of painting Robert Boynes, head of photomedia Ingo Kleinert, and sculptor Jan Brown.

Another significant Canberra story, she wrote, was that of Studio One, an independent printmaking workshop founded by Meg Buchanan and Dianne Fogwell that operated in Canberra from 1983 to 2000, where Basil Hall became a pioneer in working with Indigenous artists, hence the striking prints included in the show by Rover Thomas, Emily Kam Kngwarray and Jack Britten.

“Celebration: 20 years of collecting visual art at CMAG”, Canberra Museum and Gallery, North building Civic Square, until Sunday, June 17. For details of floor talks and community programs visit

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Helen Musa
“CityNews” arts editor

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