A significant Streeton rediscovery: 'The Grand Canal' (1908)

Arthur Streeton,  The Grand Canal,  1908, oil on canvas, 93 x 169cm (36.61 x 66.54in); private collection; photo: Glen Watson

Arthur Streeton, The Grand Canal, 1908, oil on canvas, 93 x 169cm (36.61 x 66.54in); private collection; photo: Glen Watson

The Grand Canal (1908) by Arthur Streeton (1867–1943) has remained in one family’s ownership for over a century, mostly out of public circulation, and not featured in major Streeton publications. Until now, the provenance of the picture, its date and title, have been unresolved.

The rediscovery and identification of this picture is made all the more remarkable by the work being one of Streeton’s larger and more important paintings. His Venetian series is leading in his oeuvre, and this work is core among the Venetian paintings, in both scale and accomplishment. Streeton honeymooned in Venice in May 1908, and visited again in October of that year. Of 85 catalogue entries in 1908, when most of Streeton’s Venetian works were painted, 78 works are Venetian scenes.

The view in this painting is similar to that in paintings by Canaletto and other greats, including Canaletto’s The Grand Canal looking South from Ca’ Foscari to the Carità (c. 1726–27). On 8 October 1908, in a letter to Baldwin Spencer, Streeton wrote: ‘… I’ve painted on 66x36 from the top of Palazzo Foscari – commanding a fine view of the Grand Canal.’ (See Ann Galbally and Anne Gray, Letters from Smike: The Letters of Arthur Streeton 1890–1943, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1989, p. 114.) The stretcher size corresponds exactly to the newly identified work.

This research unearthing The Grand Canal (1908) is timely: informing the Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW) of the existence of the work has seen its inclusion in their forthcoming exhibition ‘Streeton’, which opens in September 2020. AGNSW Director Michael Brand describes it as ‘the most important painting in the selection of Venetian subject works from 1908’. The painting was last shown at AGNSW for the ‘Loan Exhibition of the Works of Arthur Streeton’ in 1931–32. Since then, it appears not to have shown until 2016 and 2018, in exhibitions curated by the writer. It was not included in the ‘Arthur Streeton Memorial Exhibition’ of 1944, where up to 11 of 135 Streeton artworks exhibited were Venetian scenes.

Publication of this finding brings the painting to public attention now in late 2019 following two other Streeton paintings having re-emerged into circulation in the past five years. In 2016, And the Sunlight Clasps the Earth (1895) was rediscovered in a private collection in Tasmania after around 120 years out of view, and Ariadne (1895) was largely unseen in a private collection in Sydney for 70 years until its 2014 sale.

The painting is no. 346 in The Arthur Streeton Catalogue of 1935, one of two major Grand Canal works listed. The picture can be so identified principally through a visual record of the alternate Grand Canal picture, no. 365, owned by Robert Mond of Sussex (1867–1938) which was printed in the 1919 publication The Art of Arthur Streeton and titled The Grand Canal Venice (exhibited in 1908 at the New English Art Club). Arthur Sydney Baillieu (father of artist Sunday Reed) is established as the owner of The Grand Canal (1908) both with the purchase confirmation that I have found through Streeton’s letters (Baillieu acquired the work from the Victorian Artists Society exhibition ‘Mr Streeton’s pictures’ in June 1914 – see Galbally and Gray, p. 133), and by the painting’s exhibition at AGNSW in 1931–32 as I have discovered from a label on the painting’s verso.

There are no large Grand Canal works documented by Streeton in 1927, when a smaller picture Grand Canal, Venice was painted – it is near identical pictorially to The Grand Canal (1908) – or indeed at any time between 1908 and 1935 when his catalogue of works was published.

For the reasons outlined, I attribute this artwork as being Streeton’s The Grand Canal (1908), catalogue entry no. 346 in The Arthur Streeton Catalogue of 1935. The painting has reached the current owner via Arthur’s sister Amy Adelaide Shackell, passing by descent within the family.

Dr Sarah Schmidt is an Australian public gallery director and curator who manages public and cultural diplomacy for the Australian Embassy, Beijing. She was previously Director of Hamilton Gallery and Deputy Director of the Art Gallery of Ballarat. This is an edited excerpt from an essay to appear in a forthcoming edition of Art Monthly Australasia.

Sweet and sour: Anne Wallace’s ‘Strange Ways’ at QUT Art Museum

Anne Wallace: Strange Ways , exhibition installation view, QUT Art Museum, Brisbane, 2019; image courtesy QUT Art Museum, Brisbane; photo: Carl Warner

Anne Wallace: Strange Ways, exhibition installation view, QUT Art Museum, Brisbane, 2019; image courtesy QUT Art Museum, Brisbane; photo: Carl Warner

‘Strange Ways’ surveys nearly three decades of Anne Wallace’s compelling, unnerving paintings. The exhibition is the first substantial presentation of the artist’s work in her hometown since ‘Private Rooms’ at the former Brisbane City Gallery (now Museum of Brisbane) in 2000.

Wallace’s practice is remarkable for its singular commitment to figurative painting. Although informed by the artist’s ongoing engagement with cinema, literature and music, her paintings actively resist a conventional narrative reading. Using her considerable technical skill, Wallace draws viewers into seductive images of alienation, ennui and trauma, withholding just enough information for us to fully apprehend the image.

The exhibition brings together around 80 paintings and works on paper, including rarely seen early works, most notably Sour the Boiling Honey (1991), a formative example of Wallace’s oeuvre. Painted when she was 21 years old, a staged tableau unfolds across three large panels depicting adolescent boys and girls at play by the sea, with the androgynous central figure representing the artist herself.

It is fascinating to view Wallace’s early works, concerned with adolescent experience, alongside subsequent ones, which are often focused on a solitary (adult) female figure, her back turned or avoiding the viewer’s gaze, set inside airless interiors characterised by their unusual treatment of perspective and lack of extraneous detail. Wallace reflected on this ambiguity in an essay published in Recent Paintings (Arts Queensland, 1999): ‘What I like about representational painting is the fact that an image can be trapped forever and, if there is a sufficient lack of information, it will never go back or forward or yield up its story.’

Curator Vanessa Van Ooyen has sensibly avoided a chronological or didactic display, opting instead for thoughtful juxtapositions that emphasise the consistent trajectory of Wallace’s practice, eliciting gradual developments in style and content. Pleasure Garden (2019), a recent counterpoint to Sour the Boiling Honey, depicts another group of androgynous youths, languidly sunbathing in a fertile garden. In this and other recent works, Wallace zooms out from the tightly cropped scenes of her earlier paintings, the previously dominant figures now subordinate to the overall composition.

Some viewers may find the lack of artwork and expanded labels frustrating, given the significance of Wallace’s titles and their intertextual references which provide a valuable entry point for her paintings. This criticism is offset, however, by the substantial exhibition publication featuring newly commissioned texts on Wallace’s work by Gillian Brown, Francis Plagne and Van Ooyen.

QUT Art Museum is to be commended for its commitment to presenting focused survey exhibitions of mid-career Australian artists. On view until 23 February, ‘Strange Ways’ represents a rare opportunity for Brisbane audiences to see a comprehensive survey of Wallace’s work. The exhibition will then tour to the Art Gallery of Ballarat and Adelaide’s Samstag Museum of Art during 2020.

Hamish Sawyer, Brisbane

Remote control: Simon Denny’s ‘Mine’ at MONA

Simon Denny: Mine , exhibition installation view, Museum of Old and New Art (MONA), Hobart, 2019; image courtesy MONA, Hobart; photo: MONA/Jesse Hunniford

Simon Denny: Mine, exhibition installation view, Museum of Old and New Art (MONA), Hobart, 2019; image courtesy MONA, Hobart; photo: MONA/Jesse Hunniford

‘Mine’, Simon Denny’s current exhibition project at the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) in Hobart, attempts to represent the mostly unseen, planetary-scale processes of extraction – the plundering, accumulation, enclosure and colonial expropriation of natural resources which are fundamental to the interests of modern capitalism. In our increasingly decentred and dematerialised world, it is difficult to comprehend the scale and specificity of these processes, let alone grasp the ways in which they are naturalised and licensed to cut through patterns of human cooperation and social activity. Compared to our little lives and devices, the seemingly disparate networks of extraction are so immensely huge and their combined impact so vast and abstract, that they resist easy representation. The unrelenting dynamic of these anthropogenic processes have led us to the climatic mess we are currently in. Yet glimmering in the corner of Denny’s ‘Mine’ is the faint insistence that such complex systems-thinking now empowers us to begin reckoning with the devastation caused through this voracious process of extracting value from the natural world.

Denny’s research practice has involved interacting with the new breed of global business entrepreneurs, or people engaged in critical work investigating how these new technologies interface with our lives and affect our relations. Typically, he adopts the rhetoric and aesthetics offered up by these subjects and institutions, as a kind of ambivalent performance, appropriating the innovations of disciplines outside of art and espoused by these new tech industries. While Denny has deployed familiar tactics of immersion in ‘Mine’ – activating, implicating and putting people in different relationships to the material he is working with – his framing of the project in the media and in person signals a more definitive position than he had previously presented. This more straightforward enactment, however, is haunted by ghosts of his earlier techno-libertarian ‘fanboy’ days. It is as if the contradictions engendered by his previous indifference remain unresolved – despite the clear politicisation of content and an obvious change in the artist’s attitude.

Indeed, if Denny’s dystopian Disneyland holds up a mirror to a violently destructive industry in order to reflect the depressing commercial and sociopolitical realities of our time, the mirror also excludes or deflects. In both entertaining and implicating his audience to manifest certain behaviours, Denny manages to divert the critical attention away from his strategy of ‘remote control’ – meaning his authority to situate people in a scripted relation to spatial power. This strategy emphasises the prescribed patterns of action and invisible layers of interactivity which, deep within MONA’s ‘Mine’, are effectively putting us to work. The additional augmented-reality layer (a virtual double space) creates an eerie experience of art where the line between entertainment and exploitation blurs to a point of alarm.

Oscar Capezio, Hobart

This is an edited excerpt from an essay to appear in a forthcoming edition of Art Monthly Australasia; ‘Simon Denny: Mine’ is currently on view at Hobart’s Museum of Old and New Art until 13 April 2020.

Between art and life: The 8th Korea Artist Prize

Jewyo Rhii,  Love Your Depot , 2019, installation view, National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Seoul, 2019; ? Jewyo Rhii; photo: Alex Burchmore

Jewyo Rhii, Love Your Depot, 2019, installation view, National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Seoul, 2019; ? Jewyo Rhii; photo: Alex Burchmore

After travelling to Singapore this June for ‘Awakenings: Art in Society 1960s–1990s’, I received an invitation in October to the equally spectacular ‘The Square: Art and Society in Korea 1900–2019’, at Seoul’s National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMCA). This was my first encounter with an art scene perhaps unfamiliar for many readers in Australia, but remarkable in depth and diversity.

A highlight of my stay was the MMCA’s exhibition of works shortlisted for the 8th Korea Artist Prize (on view until 1 March 2020), awarded on 28 November to Jewyo Rhii. Although little known outside Korea, this is one of the most prestigious honours an artist in that country can attain. Rhii was chosen ahead of the three other finalists selected in March – all women at the height of their careers with international reputations for interrogating artistic, social and cultural issues of global significance.

Love Your Depot (2019), Rhii’s prize-winning installation, offers a solution to the precarious working conditions she has endured throughout her career, travelling constantly in search of opportunity while entrusting her work to storage facilities that can’t guarantee security or consistency. Despite the endemic scale of this issue, it often remains hidden behind gallery walls with other under-acknowledged aspects of the industry, from marketing and sales to conservation and disposal. Rhii exposes these after-lives of the work of art in a cavernous ‘laboratory’ that can serve as a storage space, public forum or broadcasting studio, flexibly adapting to suit participating artists. Shelves and stacks filled with paintings and sculpture are the most engaging aspect of the installation, calling to mind the trend for ‘open storage’ sweeping South Korea’s arts sector and used to great effect at the MMCA branch in Cheongju, and the nearby National Palace Museum.

The other finalists adopt a more eclectic perspective on social issues. Birdsong entices viewers to enter Young In Hong’s To Paint the Portrait of a Bird (2019): a caged passage between two austere chambers, on the walls of which birds projected in silhouette tower over bare, twisted branches, their magnified size and shadowed anonymity blurring the boundary between spectator and spectacle. Embroidered textiles arranged to resemble a Confucian ancestral shrine introduce a note of domesticity – rather than a family patriarch, however, the central hanging is adorned with yet more birds, perched on the limbs of a stunted tree, as if seeking solidarity in their shared confinement.

A comparable reclamation of patriarchal space is enacted by Hyesoo Park, whose project unfolds like a social experiment, with the artist as chief investigator. The first stage of her work involved the distribution of a survey built around the question, ‘Who is your “we”?’, to which almost all participants responded ‘family’, even while naming friends and lovers as their most trusted companions. Park cites this contradiction as evidence for her guiding hypothesis: that traditional family bonds are declining in South Korea but have been artificially prolonged as a state mechanism for social control. Like Young, she exposes inequalities and stereotypes masked by Confucian emphasis on ‘family harmony’, noting the pressure felt by women to marry and have children. Her Perfect Family, a satirical reimagining of state-sanctioned initiatives, proposes a market-driven solution, questioning whether domestic bliss can be sold as a package deal.

Ayoung Kim has chosen, like Rhii, to focus on the hidden social crises produced by constant motion and precarity, though her attention to their impact on human relationships suggests closer parallels with Park’s work. For Tricksters’ Plot (2019), Kim has added further conceptual complexity to her Porosity Valley video project, first shown at the 2017 Melbourne Festival. Shocked by the detention of those seeking asylum in Australia, she draws a comparison with the prejudice faced by Yemeni refugees on Jeju Island, south of the Korean Peninsula. Her disorienting digital installation cites a range of sources, from Mongolian folktales to Octavia E. Butler’s techno-feminist novels, to complicate the stereotype of refugees as a threat to the status quo by highlighting their social invisibility and, above all, their essential humanity.

Rhii, Young, Park and Kim take very different approaches to their chosen subjects, testing the boundaries