Time & Vision - 2

By Paul Bayley

This is not to diminish the cultural distinctiveness of the individual artists. They may share the same points of reference as their British counterparts but when placed together the different contextual weaving creates an interesting form of visual interference.  In physics when two identical grids are overlaid and moved slightly a moiré pattern is formed. These patterns both draw attention to and distract from the original subject matter. 

It was with this in mind that I approached the curation of an exhibition that would present Australian artists who were the recipients of Australia Council for the Arts grants to live and work in London over the past 20 years.  I wanted to show the diversity of the artists and the quality of their work but I also wanted to put together an exhibition that would make sense in the context of the London contemporary art world in 2012.

This meant, perhaps unfairly, that I favoured art that was made in this context and was produced relatively recently. This was not intended as a negative judgement on those artists currently living and working back in Australia but I was interested in work that had grown out of this shared context.  In looking at the work I did not want to forget the enormous contextual change that has taken place in the London contemporary art world over these past two decades.

London in 1992 was a vastly different place to the London of 2012, not least in its attitude to contemporary art.  It is something of a cliché to look at the recent past as a foreign country, however, for those of us who worked in contemporary art in London at the beginning of the 1990s it is like looking at a remote and sparsely populated landscape prior to a gold rush.  The instincts of its most famous prospector, Charles Saatchi, were vindicated in 1997 with the showing of Sensation at the Royal Academy, and, with the opening of Tate Modern in 2000, the gold rush duly arrived.

Suddenly, British contemporary art was front-page news and it was even co-opted as an internationally successful export by the then new government led by Tony Blair. Showings in New York and Berlin followed;  although interestingly the Australian leg of the tour was cancelled for perceived, and in the event, actual ‘closeness to the market’.  However, the genie was out of the bottle and for the next ten years galleries opened and closed, critical reputations rose and fell and contemporary art became a globalised big business in London: the first Frieze Art Fair in 2003 timed its launch to perfection.

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