Dispatch Review respectfully acknowledges the Whadjuk people as the traditional owners and custodians of the lands upon which we live, work and enjoy. We pay deep respect to Elders past and present. Always was, always will be Aboriginal land.

Reviews:

  1. Ceramically Speaking by Ben Yaxley. 
  2. The Strelley Mob by Sam Harper.
  3. Rone: The Mighty Success by Leslie Thompson.
  4. Paper Trails: Interviews [part 1] by Sam Beard.
  5. Power 100 by Dispatch Review.
  6. Foresight & Fiction by Ben Yaxley.
  7. Twin Peaks Was 30 by Matthew Taggart.
  8. Breaking News: It’s Rone! by Sam Beard.
  9. Look, looking at Anna Park by Amelia Birch.
  10. The Fan by Francis Russell.
  11. Follower, Leader by Maraya Takoniatis.
  12. Wanneroo Warholamania by Sam Beard.
  13. Death Metal Summer by Sam Beard.
  14. Players, Places: Reprised, Renewed, Reviewed by Aimee Dodds.
  15. Scholtz: Two Worlds Apart by  Corderoy, Fisher, Flaherty, Wilson, Fletcher,  Jorgensen, & Glover.
  16. Partial Sightings by Sam Beard.
  17. True! Crime. by Aimee Dodds.
  18. The Human Condition by Rex Butler.
  19. Light Event by Sam Beard.
  20. Rejoinder: Archival / Activism by Max Vickery.
  21. Access and Denial in The Purple Shall Govern by Jess van Heerden.
  22. 4Spells by Sam Beard.
  23. Abstract art, DMT capitalism and the ugliness of David Attwood’s paintings
    by Darren Jorgensen.
  24. Unearthing new epistemologies of extraction by Samuel Beilby.
  25. Seek Wisdom by Max Vickery.
  26. Something for Everyone by Sam Beard.
  27. Violent Sludge by Aimee Dodds.
  28. State of Abstraction by Francis Russell.
  29. Double Histories: Special Issue, with texts by Ian McLean, Terry Smith, and Darren Jorgensen & Sam Beard.
  30. Six Missing Shows by Sam Beard.
  31. What We Memorialise by Max Vickery.
  32. At the End of the Land by Amelia Birch.
  33. The beautiful is useful by Sam Beard.
  34. ām / ammā / mā maram by Zali Morgan.
  35. Making Ground, Breaking Ground by Maraya Takoniatis.
  36. Art as Asset by Sam Beard.
  37. Cactus Malpractice by Aimee Dodds.
  38. Sweet sweet pea by Sam Beard.
  39. COBRA by Francis Russell.
  40. PICA Barn by Sam Beard .
  41. Gallery Hotel Metro by Aimee Dodds.
  42. A Stroll Through the Sacred, Profane, and Bizarre by Samuel Beilby.
  43. Filling in the Gaps at Spacingout by Maraya Takoniatis.
  44. Disneyland Cosmoplitanism by Sam Beard.
  45. Discovering Revenue by Anonymous.
  46. Uncomfortable Borrowing by Jess van Heerden.
  47. It’s Not That Strange by Stirling Kain.
  48. Hatched Dispatched by Sam Beard & Aimee Dodds.
  49. Fuck the Class System by Jess van Heerden, Jacinta Posik, Darren Jorgensen, et al.
  50. Wild About Nothing by Sam Beard.
  51. Paranoiac, Peripatetic: Pet Projects by Aimee Dodds.
  52. An Odd Moment for Women’s Art by Maraya Takoniatis.
  53. Transmutations by Sam Beard.
  54. The Post-Vandal by Sam Beard.
  55. Art Thugs and Humbugs by Max Vickery.
  56. Disneyland, Paris, Ardross and the artworld by Darren Jorgensen.
  57. Bizarrely, A Biennale by Aimee Dodds.
  58. Venus in Tullamarine by Sam Beard.
  59. Weird Rituals by Sam Beard.
  60. Random Cube by Francis Russell.
  61. Yeah, Nah, Rockpool by Aimee Dodds.
  62. Towards a Blind Horizon by Kieron Broadhurst.
  63. Being Realistic by Sam Beard.



An odd moment for women’s art in AGWA’s Against the Odds exhibition

Looking upon the art in AGWA’s Against the Odds show—a title probably signifying the miracle that is the “woman artist”—the stupefying homogeneity across all the exhibited works was hard to read with clarity. The show was prompted by the most recent acquisition of Helen Maudsley’s work by the gallery last year. The other hanging works, except for a couple of outliers (Joy Hester’s Lovers VI purchased in 2011, and Maudsley’s purchased 2022) were all collected in the 20th century, 29 of those works during the 1950s.
        We’ve seen all-women shows before. Token works strewn together because they were authored by women artists, as if the gender of the artist is the only critical reading these works can possess. But this show seems different from the rest. In this show, all the works are oddly… the same? Across multiple artists, genres, and motifs, there is a strong homogeneity on display - an aesthetic unity. The curator has clearly intended for us to take something away from this show, but it is unclear exactly what that something might be.
        The hanging works are spread across four walls, each wall with a slightly different arrangement. On the left-hand wall, the works stand in a long line extending from the front to the back of the room. On the small wall directly opposite the entryway are three of Mary Macqueen’s lithographs stacked in an inverse pyramid, and on the adjacent small wall is the show’s focal work, Maudsley’s The charming ladies, accompanied on either side by Lewers’ Burnt Out on the left and Hester’s Lovers VI on the right. The last wall is stacked with 19 works all randomly arranged in a cluster.
        The precedent for the show is set by Macqueen’s lithographs visible upon entry and the works seen along the left wall where Bellette’s Bottles, Cassab’s Still life, Prendiville’s Manifesto, and Preston’s Native Flowers of Western Australia, hang alongside each other. There is no mistaking that these four works were created by different artists. Each displays a unique character built on the varied strokes of each artist’s skilful hand. But as one looks across the paintings, flitting back and forth between them, they begin to look increasingly similar. Something about the way your gaze rolls to the centre, continually drawn away from the edges of the work, makes the aesthetic impression of each piece interchangeable.
        When one looks at the works more carefully, their visual similarities are revealed. There is a tendency in the compositional arrangement of each work to position the subject matter centrally. Soft lighting and simple, pale backgrounds act as framing devices, limiting subject matter to a central focus whilst simultaneously destroying any sense of extension beyond the frame. In Macqueen’s lithographs especially, objects are clustered on flat tabletops that would appear two-dimensional if it were not for the suggestion of table legs in the foreground.
        This sense of cluster is also prevalent in Bellette and Preston’s works. Preston’s flowers gathered in a beautiful bouquet are fascinating for their intricate detail, but their delicateness is unsettled as they spill out of their vase, the flowers at each edge hanging precariously at horizontal angles.  Bellette’s Bottles do not seem to be suffering from a lack of space like Preston’s native flower scene, but are nevertheless gathered together, obscuring each other from the onlooker’s view. The grouping of the subject matter in Bellette and Preston’s works makes both compositions look desperately small—stifled even. The eagerness to concentrate all attention at the centre of the visual plane fosters an anxiety for any object that might escape the frame. We see this anxiety actualise in Prendiville’s Manifesto, where the petals actually do extend just beyond the edge of the painting. Prendeville’s ivory stem arched to the side of the painting is abruptly sliced by the frame. The disappearance of the petals seems harsh, and the serenity of the picture has been interrupted by the uncanny disappearance of Prendiville’s subject.
        Another notable visual convention that continues to reappear is the annularity in each composition. This appears most vividly in Macqueen’s lithographs. Although each lithograph is on rectangular paper in rectangular frames, the illustrations themselves refrain from reaching the edge of the paper. Instead, they float as annular bubbles in negative space. The withdrawal from the edge of the paper and timid use of space feeds the characterisation of the frame as an unpassable barrier, devouring whatever may come into contact with it.
        The didactic for the show explains that such clustered arrangements may be interpreted as a result of the conditions women painters worked in. Without studios, makeshift sets made in the corners of domestic houses were the only spaces available to the woman artist. As such, compositions may appear clustered, not as a sign of poor technique, but as a way of organising objects on a plane. Such a mode of presentation (if actually a convention unique to women’s still life painting) could be theorised into a critical understanding of the female gaze, or how it may have developed during Modernism in Australia.
        Alternatively, one could dismiss the need to refer to gender entirely. Another analysis may simply read the compositions as deriving from the conventions of still life painting and depictions of interior subject matter. The centralisation of the subject in each work may encourage an intimacy and focus on the objects of domestic life. This may be a sensitive stylistic approach that intentionally responds to the nature of these objects as small elements of interior spaces. However tempting this view may be, it would be dismissive of the other works in the show to end with this analysis. Looking across the rest of the exhibition, there is a peculiar continuation of the visual conventions discussed so far in the portraits and outdoor scenes included in the show, suggesting these conventions could not merely be the result of still life painting.
        The outdoor scenes are primarily displayed in the clustered group of hanging works. Unlike traditional Australian outdoor scenes, there is a categorical absence of warm orange tones symbolic of the Australian sun, nor are there any broad, sweeping landscapes. Instead, chickens are drawn like teapots, and animal forms are contorted to fit the small bubble of space floating at the heart of each canvas. Haxton’s Rooster, Mayo’s Spring Morning, Scott’s Three White Leopards, and Higgs’ Two Horses, all indulge in the same framing conventions previously observed in the domestic still life paintings.
        In each work, the animals depicted never escape the edge of the frame. The wispy feathers of Haxton’s Rooster fail to break beyond the pale mustard background that stops short before the edge of the paper. Similarly, the ginger cat in Eileen Mayo’s Spring Morning seems oblivious to the fact that the shrubby patch of grass she lounges on seems to float in an obscure white, negative space. Even the wildly galloping duo in Florence Higgs’ Two Horses have been squished into frame, the blue horse unnaturally bent to keep its back legs from escaping the scene—a painful distortion to say the least.
        Looking further, we find the same annular shapes on this wall that were prevalent in Macqueen’s lithographs. Scott’s Three White Leopards and Ogilvie’s Eucalyptus Seed Pods are examples of this. Whilst both small works do extend to the edge of the page, the circular framing persists with the bubble of white negative space circling around the leopards and seed pods rather than the entire scene. The negative space which pushes inwards towards the subjects recreates the compositional organisation that was prevalent in Bellette and Preston’s oil paintings.
        The similarities across the show are proof that the conventions are more than simply the rules of constructing still life paintings. This leaves open the possibility of interpreting the exhibition’s homogeneity as a discovery of a female gaze conditioned by the domestic lives of women in the first half of the 20th century. But could this potentially be a misrepresentation? Are there any inconsistencies that may allude to other influencing factors that could explain this visual homogeneity on display? A more careful and thorough look at the show does reveal some key discrepancies between the works discussed thus far and two works that have not been properly discussed, one of which can arguably be said to be the show’s focal work: Maudsley’s The charming ladies and Hester’s Lovers VI.
        Maudsley and Hester’s works differ from the rest of the show visually and curatorially. These works are the only two in the entire show collected in the 21st century (Hester’s collected in 2011 and Maudsley’s, as we already know, collected last year). This fact is not significant until one notices how the works collected later differ visually from the rest of the exhibition.
        Hester’s Lovers VI shows a woman standing with her lover’s hand on her shoulder.  Whilst other works in the show offer different depictions of people, such as Mayo’s Woman and Siamese Cat and Kubbos’ Sitting Girl, these works fail to break free from the aforementioned conventions. By contrast, Hester uses different compositional rules to depict a woman who looks secure and comfortable, her figure neither forced to the centre nor fully encompassed in a floating background.
        In Mayo’s work, her two figures are positioned quite differently. Mayo’s woman and Siamese cat look caged in by a deep blue splodgy background. The figures look uncomfortably barred in by their floating blue bubble and the work’s double framing. Despite being cocooned together by so many blocks of solid colour, the two figures look serene, slightly lost in thought and each other’s company.
        Kubbos’ Sitting Girl sits in a striped box surrounded by a block of solid green. Within her cocoon, the Sitting Girl appears slightly more uncomfortable, her right arm raised, shielding something from her face which awkwardly tilts forward from a lack of space. Despite her contortion, the girl’s expression is plain, perhaps melancholic, used to her block of space. Hester’s woman, on the other hand, looks comfortable even when she is sharing the space with her lover. Hester’s figures do not look forced together or contorted into uncomfortable positions. Instead, the lovers choose to be near each other, leaving the dark vastness behind them.  
        The focal work of the show, Maudsley’s The charming ladies, sits in direct contrast to the adjacent work, Burnt Out by Lewers. Both these works have general similarities in size, colour, and even motif, though the differences between the works succinctly demonstrate the inconsistencies between the works on display and Maudsley’s painting which started it all. Lewers’ work consists of bold, energetic lines that shoot outward, threatening to break the frame. But rather than shooting out into the unknown, Lewers’ lines bounce off the square edges of her canvas, riveting back inwards to the centre. Though the lines in Maudsley’s work are more contained, there is an outward motion in the abstract forms curving towards the edges of the canvas. Big shapes spread beyond view, and the energy feels dispersed across the surface of the work generating a broad rather than central focus. Leading lines expanding outwards are present both in the foreground and background elements. Unlike the constrained and timid use of space prevalent in the other exhibited works, Maudsley’s piece captures a vastness that makes it look as if it could be a snippet of a bigger work.
        Despite the differences between Maudsley and Hester’s works to the rest of the pieces on display, these two prominent works still belong to the same category of Australian Modern art from the 50s. Perhaps the fact that they were collected later alludes to something important about the perception of women’s art. In the past, women’s art may have been intentionally chosen for its timid portrayal of space, confining the focal content to the centre of the plane and keeping their subjects tucked away from the edges of their paper. Such an expectation may have been the result of a prejudiced view towards women’s art as being incapable of depicting open spaces too grand for our delicate constitutions. Or perhaps, this expectation was the result of a critical understanding of women’s experiences as confined to the limited spaces of domestic settings (though how different is this attitude, really?). This reading is plausible because most works in the collection were bought around the same time, and most likely by the same people. Changes in curators and gallery directors, as well as shifts in our understanding of women’s art may be the most adequate explanation for the discrepancies on show. Consequently, this would mean that the similarities across the works do not allude to a female gaze, but instead to what the female gaze was previously allowed to be.
        Why not take the simple route and conclude that the similarities across the show are quite plainly the result of intentional curating? Cohesiveness between artworks in a single exhibition ought to be expected from successful shows. However, the show was catapulted into existence by the acquisition of Maudsley’s work last year, so how come this work is the most ill-fitted in the entire room? Surely the curator would have built a show that aligned with the main work, rather than a show that seems to gather a unifying force whilst excluding the star piece.
        It is by no means a criticism of the quality of the work in the show to say that women’s art may have been selectively collected in the past. Instead, this revelation should be seen as an opportunity to widen the scope further when looking back at the art of the past. Our critical understanding and the works which we use to visualise the history of art produced by women in Australia should be able to make room for Maudsley and Hester, and any other woman artist who may have been overlooked because their art was beyond anybody’s chauvinist expectations.


Against the Odds, 10 Dec 2022 – 10 Sep 2023, The Art Gallery of Western Australia.



Photographs of Against the Odds at The Art Gallery of Western Australia by Maraya Takoniatis.