It’s not every day that an exhibition blows your cotton pickin’ socks off. That’s the thing with the Adelaide Biennale’s Dark Heart; it does just that and then some. You have no choice but to compare it to the Sydney Biennale, which was on at the same time. The Sydney Biennale was wracked with controversy and bad publicity on many levels keeping the punters at bay, whilst the Adelaide Biennale was quietly going about its business and putting on the show of a decade. The Adelaide Biennial was not about aesthetics but more about spectacle. Curator Nick Mitzevich has kept the artist numbers low, about thirty, and was content to include the most fashionable artists in Australia. He commissioned new works so that the exhibition would be fresh and didn’t fall back on tried but true familiar themes.
It was in fact a show with record attendances of 111,000, which was a ten per cent increase on 2012 numbers.
Apart from the works exhibited over three levels at the Art Gallery of South Australia, two knock-outs were Patricia Piccinini’s Skywhale and Ian Strange’s Landed sculpture on North Terrace.
Caroline Rothwell exhibited off-site at the Botanic Garden, in the Economic Memorial Hall. The standard of the heavily curated work was gobsmackingly mesmerising. At times I felt I needed an overnight stay at the Museum to truly imbue the talent that worked to the brief of Dark Heart.
In a touch of genius, extrapolating the old with the new and as if eyeing each other off, the curators placed Brendan Huntley’s ceramic heads opposite Sidney Nolan’s portraits from their permanent collection. Huntley’s inspiration is tabled from people he observes or meets in the streets on an everyday level. Sidney Nolan’s highly original painted child like faces are recalled as mask like faces painted by the ‘haptic’ children in Viktor Lowenfeld’s book which he and other artists in the 1950’s were reading. Perhaps the source of inspiration was his patron and muse at Heide, Sunday Reed to whom he wrote in 1944 stating he admired Picasso’s use of African scarification and Maori markings in portraits. Both Huntley and Nolan use big bold strokes and primary colours to express their feelings about the people and in their landscape.
In a note validating the success and response to the exhibition, the Art Gallery of South Australia purchased ten works from the 2014 Adelaide Biennial of Australian Art: Dark Heart for its permanent collection. They included, three works from You’re Welcome by Brendan Huntley, two by Dani Marti, Alex Seton’s Someone died trying to have a life like mine, moving image works by Del Kathryn Barton, Brendan Fletcher, Shoufay Derz and Richard Lewer.
The thirty artists who participated in Dark Heart had unique and diverse stories in all forms of media and Mitzevich tried to avoid any overlaps, so the visitor can view what’s happening in contemporary Australian art now.