Terra Australis Incognita:  

A conversation with Kathleen Soriano about 'Australia' at the Royal Academy - 3

Frederick McCubbin, The Pioneer, 1904, Oil on canvas.  225 x 295.7 cm.National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne. Exhibition organised by the Royal Academy of Arts, London in partnership with the National Gallery of Australia

Frederick McCubbin, The Pioneer, 1904, Oil on canvas.  225 x 295.7 cm.National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne.

Exhibition organised by the Royal Academy of Arts, London in partnership with the National Gallery of Australia

Arthur Streeton, Fire's On, 1891.  Oil on canvas.  183.8 x 122.5 cm.  Art Gallery of New South Wales, purchased 1893. Exhibition organised by the Royal Academy of Arts, London in partnership with the National Gallery of Australia.

Arthur Streeton, Fire's On, 1891.  Oil on canvas.  183.8 x 122.5 cm.  Art Gallery of New South Wales, purchased 1893.

Exhibition organised by the Royal Academy of Arts, London in partnership with the National Gallery of Australia.

CK So were you thinking the audience they might have no knowledge of Australian art?

KS I was imagining they might know about Sidney Nolan, Brett Whiteley, Lloyd Rees…  Arthur Boyd had hung around here.  And a very small part of the audience might know Shaun Gladwell... or Rosemary Lange.  But on the whole I wasn't expecting a large knowledge base.

CK  I've read some reviews and they've been mixed about the exhibition, I feel the theme of the land is the one that ties the survey exhibition together.  Do you think some of the criticism is because some of the writers haven't really understood that?

KS Actually the theme of it I have used more as basis to make the selection. 

CK To help the decision making process.

KS Exactly.  The selection takes landscape in the most extreme description...  Overwhelmingly, the story is really about Australian art history and Australian history.  It's interesting, the three part series by Edmund Capon on BBC 4...  is based on the same sort of premise.

CK I don't feel as though you could separate the two.  I've been intrigued by how it's been received.  For me it highlights, like you said, the unfamiliarity with the work and its objectives.  I really feel that because it is such a meaty show it's not something you can grasp in one viewing.  The exhibition is ambitious and needs to be ambitious.  But it's something that unravels its treasure over time.  For me, it was an emotional experience going through… it made me really miss home.  

KB Lots of people have said that have and talked about it in emotional terms.

CK It made me miss the land... especially the indigenous paintings really spoke to me; because they already had the language to describe the country.  Where as with the early colonial works, you can see they're really struggling to find a way to describe this landscape with the language that they know - which is a European language.  I found it quite moving... it's is a beautiful exhibition that slowly unveils itself.  You are taken on a journey in the exhibition.  Even the contemporary works makes sense given that it's a survey exhibition, you can only provide a taster.  At the end of the day you would need several museums to show everything.  It can only open a door. 

KB That's all that I had hoped for.  We'll see.  Visitor feedback that we've had has been very good.  Like you were saying, some people have said it has moved them.  That's a special thing.  There aren't many exhibitions you can do that with. 


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