4th Biennale of Sydney: 1982

Installation view at the 4th Biennale of Sydney (1982) at the Art Gallery of New South Wales

Installation view at the 4th Biennale of Sydney (1982) at the Art Gallery of New South Wales

‘Vision in Disbelief’ was an inclusive event. It was the largest of all Biennale exhibitions, over two hundred and twenty individuals and groups from seventeen countries took part. It featured separate sections devoted to performance, video and sound, the latter being presented in part at a new venue, the National Broadcaster ABC Radio. On Radio 2JJJ (the Sydney-based youth FM radio station established in 1980) there was a program of historic sound works from the time of the Futurists to the present. Memorable performances included Min Tanaka, Anthony Howell and Terry Allen. The video section presented at the University of Technology drew enormous interest and the video works of Laurie Anderson and Brian Eno were particularly popular.

The exhibition is also remembered for a special event, the creation of the largest Aboriginal sand painting ever presented indoors. Made by a group of Walpiriri people from Lajamanu in the central Australian desert, it was an enormous undertaking and became a pivotal exhibit. Truckloads of red earth were delivered and packed down to create a smooth surface on which the painting was made in white ochre. This work filled one entire gallery of the Art Gallery of New South Wales.

Min Tanaka, 'Drive', 1982, dance improvisation. Performance for the 4th Biennale of Sydney (1982) at Cellblock Theatre, East Sydney Technical College

Min Tanaka, Drive, 1982, dance improvisation. Performance for the 4th Biennale of Sydney (1982) at Cellblock Theatre, East Sydney Technical College

Enormous controversy erupted over a painting by Juan Davila, and its seizure by the vice squad fuelled heated media coverage. The Premier of New South Wales, and Minister for the Arts, Neville Wran, rose to the occasion and defended freedom of expression in the face of police censorship of an art exhibition. The resulting media frenzy, as well as the threatening references by the extreme right to confiscate the exhibition catalogue which illustrated the work, kept the exhibition on the front pages of Australia’s newspapers for weeks. Also memorable were the enormous projections of Krzyzstof Wodiczko’s anonymous corporate persona, which gave the high rise facades of the city skyline an unsettling presence. Other exhibiting artists included: Mary Kelly, Phillip Guston, Rebecca Horn, Susan Rothenberg, Franceso Clemente, Ken Unsworth, Bill Henson, Katherina Sieverding, Jorg Immendorf and Georg Baselitiz.

The 4th Biennale was also distinguished by the vibrancy and duration of its 6-week program of lectures, performances and international panel discussions, as well as its broad-based program of satellite exhibitions. The ambitious national outreach program in 1982 took international visiting artists to many cities around Australia for lectures and workshops, and provided direct contact between artists and the broad art community in a way which had never happened before. This program left a legacy of friendships and professional relationships which subsequent Biennales would continue to develop and reinforce.