Surrealism and DaDa at NGV Federation Square

Joined together shoes, one long fingered glove, and a hat with a zip, all are absurdly silly pieces made by Barry Humphries, in the fifties whilst a dadaist studying at Melbourne University.


Barry Humphries
Barry Humphries, Dada pieces 1950’s

These and other pieces by working Australian artists are featured in the “Lurid Beauty Exhibition” currently showing at the NGV’s Ian Potter Centre, Federation Square. Many of my favourite Australian artists are showing including Pat Brassington, a Tasmanian photographer and printmaker whose work features disembodied parts of the female body.

Starlight 2001 colour digital print
Pat Brassington,Starlight 2001
colour digital print

Exhibitors include Rosslynd Piggot, whose massive white bed imposes an improbable and powerful presence above the space inviting all to dream.

High Bed, 1998 construction of painted wood, metal, cotton etc
High Bed, 1998
construction of painted wood, metal, cotton etc

The gorgeous black and white photography of Max Dupain of the 1950’s models portrays images of a graceful and bygone era.


Shadow of Ballet Dancer 1938 silver gelatin photograph
Shadow of Ballet Dancer
1938 silver gelatin photograph

Early collage work by Sidney Nolan and David Noonan are featured. A taxidermied black cat waves goodbye to us at the end of the show. It looks like a stage prop or TV show persona and not a gallery piece. Such is the depth and wonder of this show my eyes were opened to works by artists I knew but didn’t know were part of the Dada and Surrealism movements. Being removed from Europe and the USA these artists created their own version of the movement. It is a brilliant show and many of these influential artists are currently teaching and working in Australia.

Judith Wright 2011 Mixed Media A journey
Judith Wright, A journey (detail) 2011–12 mixed media – See more at:

I found particularly poignant and whimsical the installations by Judith Wright in the foyer. They are assemblages of found objects of childhood relics eg horses heads, child’s toys and a rowboat. These works depict the loss of her child, and are the artists imaginings of how her child’s life would be if she had lived and grown through childhood.

This exhibition educated and exposed me to a vast area of work by Australian artists working in a wildly inventive field of exploration.


Last week and weekend I attended a two day symposium entitled ” Pathways ” . It was run by the VCA&MCM , supported by Arts Victoria , held at Southbank NGV , and VCA.

fringe book
fringe book
pathways vca
pathways vca

It was two days of talks , presentations , and workshops designed to help arts practitioners find a sustainable , economically viable  career , in the creative fields of their choice . Many talks and presentations were given by visual artists , dancers , musicians , lyricists and music producers , filmmakers , illustrators , painters , sculptors , scriptwriters , actors and playwrights . Whilst the presentation style , and field of expertise , of the speakers varied they all had several underlying themes to their talk .

An artist has to work long and hard at their craft and it requires a sustained , day in day out work ethic . You need to exhibit , display , audition , and somehow be seen in your artistic endeavours . Networking , and self promotion are essential tools for the modern day practitioner , and effective grant writing plays a big part in the sourcing of funds , to make your practice viable . Diversifying into other fields is necessary , so you have to work across a variety of disciplines , not necessarily those of your specific interest , or addressing and complimenting your training .

Skill , talent , rigorous work and training aside , there is also an element of luck involved , ie : of being in the right place at the right time , when an opportunity arises and knowing how to seize it .

The good news is you can hope to earn $13,000 a year from all this , if you’re lucky . The general average yearly income is perceived to be much lower than this .

Artists are driven , passionate and intuitive mark makers . It is not a profession chosen for wealth , prestige , or success . Usually the profession chooses us and for those in its thrall , its a lonely , indescribable process of struggle , but one we usually can’t ignore .