First major survey in a decade of Ben Quilty's work opens at the Art Gallery of New South Wales

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First major survey in a decade of Ben Quilty's work opens at the Art Gallery of New South Wales
Ben Quilty The Last Supper 2017 oil on linen, 404 x 265 cm, Art Gallery of New South Wales. Gift of the artist 2018. Donated through the Australian Government's Cultural Gifts Program © Ben Quilty.

SYDNEY.- The Art Gallery of New South Wales opened Quilty, the first major survey in a decade of one of Australia’s most acclaimed contemporary artists, Ben Quilty.

The exhibition reveals the scope and energy of Quilty’s engagements across fifteen years of impassioned art making, including the artist’s intimate portraits, his sombre reflections on injustice and displacement and his evocations of haunted Australian landscapes.

Developed by the Art Gallery of South Australia (AGSA) and curated by Dr Lisa Slade, assistant director, artistic programs, AGSA, the travelling exhibition concludes its national tour at the Art Gallery of NSW, following earlier iterations at AGSA and the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA), Brisbane.

Art Gallery of NSW director Dr Michael Brand said that after the immense popularity of the exhibition at AGSA and QAGOMA, it is a timely opportunity to present the exhibition for Sydney and NSW audiences.

“Sydney is where Ben grew up and his artistic journey began here. Ben’s work has appeared on the walls of the Gallery many times, from his HSC artwork which was exhibited here in 1991 as part of ART EXPRESS to his Archibald Prize winning portrait of Margaret Olley in 2011,” Brand said.

“The Art Gallery of New South Wales congratulates the Art Gallery of South Australia for developing such a significant exhibition of a major Australian artist. We are excited to be hosting the exhibition from AGSA with QAGOMA, and delighted that New South Wales audiences will not miss out on seeing a home-grown artist in this free exhibition,” Brand added.

Exhibition curator Dr Lisa Slade said the exhibition presents a portrait of a socially engaged contemporary artist who is committed to art’s capacity to instigate change.

“For most of this century Ben has been delivering urgent visions of our time in history. An unlikely activist, he wields paint to draw our attention to our responsibility as critical citizens in an increasingly fraught world,” Slade said.

The exhibition traces the arc of Quilty’s work across four focused rooms. From the artist’s early reflections upon the initiation rituals performed by young Australian men through to his experience as an official war artist in Afghanistan; his revisions of the Australian landscape; his campaign to save the lives of Bali Nine pair Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran; his visits to Lebanon, Lesbos and Serbia with author Richard Flanagan, where they met, to borrow Flanagan’s words, ‘the great river of Syrian refugees’; his intimate portraits of himself, his family and his friends; and his recent grotesques made in response to contemporary politics.

Art Gallery of NSW head curator of International Art, Justin Paton remarked on the “restless energy that flows through Ben’s career” as he “finds new ways to grapple in and through paint with the issues that stir him.”

The Gallery will host a special edition of Art After Hours on Wednesday 13 November to celebrate the exhibition featuring Ben Quilty in conversation with ABC Radio presenter Robbie Buck. The pair will discuss the influences and inspirations for the works on display in the exhibition and the talk will be followed by a live music performance.

Quilty at the Art Gallery of NSW will coincide with the release of the documentary Quilty - Painting the Shadows which airs on the ABC on Tuesday, November 19 at 9.30pm and will then be available on ABC iView. Documentary director Catherine Hunter had unprecedented access to Quilty for this documentary, tracking his artistic process in the studio as he completed one of his most challenging works.

A fully illustrated book Ben Quilty published by Penguin Random House accompanies the exhibition. The publication includes essays by exhibition curator, Lisa Slade; author and close friend of the artist, Richard Flanagan; and head curator of International Art, Art Gallery of NSW, Justin Paton.

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