It seems for the art lover that these days you have to travel all over Australia to see the blockbuster that you’ll never forget. This winter it’s to Melbourne for the show from Paris – Monet’s Garden, up to Brisbane for the Spanish masterpieces from the Prado in Madrid or to the National Gallery in Canberra for the much hyped and very popular Turner from the Tate. So to be honest it was a real surprise that on a whim I took a visit to the Art Gallery of NSW, one of my most favourite places in all of Sydney, and discovered Sydney Moderns – Art for a New World.
Over 180 works by Australia’s most iconic artists, exploring the making of a modern city and representing one of the most distinctive and creative periods in the history of Australian art, between the first and second world wars. This show is bursting with colour and the pictures jump off the wall as if to say for the first time – look at me I’m very Sydney, new, modern, and exciting – and this in the 1930’s.
I guess this show doesn’t have the pull of others, so when I visited on a Saturday afternoon the crowds were very light on the ground, waiting for people like me to discover it and spread the word. The show really has a bit of everything of the period: from the still life of simple fruit and flowers, self-portraits by the artists in the show, landscapes of the local area, to cityscapes - factories, department stores and apartment blocks. You will even find the reconstruction of an art deco living room taken from photographs of an exhibition held in 1929.
I was delighted to be exposed to many different styles of the artists who were the stars of the Sydney scene at the time – and for all of this I fell in love with the work of Grace Cossington Smith. I had seen the odd work by Grace which hangs as part of the day to day modern gallery at the Gallery but here in this show there is a great spread of her work and it’s so wonderful and very moving.
Grace Cossington Smith (1892-1984) was a leading Sydney painter in the Australian modernist movement, and is generally recognised for her vibrant use of colour in depicting scenes of every day and domestic life in Sydney. Cossington Smith is best known for her interior scenes. These depict an intimate and personal world in radiant colours, lending a spiritual quality to the oil paintings. To see so much of her wonderful work hung together is worth the price of the ticket alone.
If you have always thought that Sydney was just a small backwater until towards the end of the 20th centenary, this exhibition on until 7 October will change your view for ever and do so in the most surprising and colourful way – I’d say don’t miss it!