7th Biennale of Sydney (1988)

From the Southern Cross: A View of World Art c1940–1988

18 May – 3 July 1988, Sydney
4 August – 18 September 1988, Melbourne

Artistic Director: Nick Waterlow OAM

Artistic Director Foreword

First published on the occasion of the 7th Biennale of Sydney (1988) in the exhibition catalogue titled ‘From the Southern Cross: A View of World Art c1940–1988’ edited by Nick Waterlow.

The 1988 Sydney Biennale was special in that it took place in the year of Australia’s Bicentennial celebrations and was able to travel to Melbourne; it also offered a natural yet rare opportunity to display a rich range of Australian art over half a century. It looked thematically at the historical context for the development of a number of key Australian modernist artists whose work was presented alongside their peers or inspirations from around the world. It was therefore possible to show seminal artists like Sidney Nolan alongside Léger, who had so positively influenced him, Nolan having seen Léger’s work in the 1939 Herald exhibition that Rupert Murdoch’s father Sir Keith had brought to Australia. Fred Williams was shown in relation to the extraordinary late flowering of Georges Braque, when he contradicted Cubism and created those remarkable landscapes with a horizon line reminiscent of Williams. The Biennale also provided the opportunity to look at Balthus, for example, in relation to images by a younger generation artist Julie Brown-Rrap, who had referenced his work. So it was possible to weave together the work of many artists and generations under the exhibition title, From the Southern Cross, a view of world art c. 1940-1988.

It was also exciting to be able to show a Matisse collage Polymésie la mer that related to the southern hemisphere and the Pacific in particular, to show Peter Booth in relation to Francis Bacon and Max Beckmann, Rosalie Gascoigne in relation to Colin McCahon, Mike Parr to Arnulf Rainer, and so on and so forth. There were also two remarkable Australian-based modernist pioneers in the exhibition, Ian Fairweather and Tony Tuckson, who developed an uncanny understanding of the cultures of the region, not to mention Ralph Balson, Joy Hester and Arthur Boyd.

Perhaps the most remarkable single work in 1988 was the Aboriginal Memorial. This piece originated through Djon Mundine, then art advisor at Ramingining. It consisted of one memorial for each year of white occupation of Australia. Each took the form of a traditional hollow log coffin. The 200 burial poles have been on display since then at the National Gallery in Canberra, their permanent home. This year they have also been exhibited, to considerable acclaim, in Germany and Russia.

This Biennale, with the support of the Australian Bicentennial Authority, travelled to the National Gallery of Victoria and thus brought to a very large audience a coherently structured and broad view of unique developments in Australian art, from the ground breaking moment of Margaret Preston to the postmodern generation of Vivienne Shark LeWitt and Jacky Redgate. Coherent relationships between ideas expressed in this part of the world, with corresponding ones from artists of similar generations in Asia, Europe and the Americas, allowed the creation of a rich exhibition. It expanded the meaning and understanding of the present by clearly articulating, through the inclusion of remarkable precursors and their work, the way ideas from so many parts of the world connect.

Catalogue essays by authors such as Ian Burn, Jürgen Habermas and Terence Maloon, with a vibrant series of forums and lectures in both Sydney and Melbourne involving artists and writers, gave sustained, informed and informative meaning to the project.