6th Biennale of Sydney: 1986

Michael Nelson Tjakamarra, 'Possum Dreaming', 1985. Artwork exhibited in the 6th Biennale of Sydney (1986). Copyright courtesy the Aboriginal Artists Agency, Sydney

Michael Nelson Tjakamarra, Possum Dreaming, 1985. Artwork exhibited in the 6th Biennale of Sydney (1986). Copyright courtesy the Aboriginal Artists Agency, Sydney

The sixth Biennale of Sydney questioned the concept of what constituted originality in the work of artists as diverse as Jannis Kounellis, Anselm Kiefer, Eric Fischl, Sherrie Levine, Carlo Maria Mariani and Susan Norrie. Glen Baxter created a memorable and eloquent image for the catalogue and poster, ‘It was Tom’s first brush with Modernism’ which playfully engaged some of the serious undercurrents of the theme, as did Malcolm McLaren’s spray painted framing of his album cover image for Bow Wow Wow’s ‘Go Wild in the Country’.

Malcolm McLaren, 'Go Wild in the Country', 1981. Installation view of the 6th Biennale of Sydney (1986) at the Art Gallery of New South Wales

Malcolm McLaren, Go Wild in the Country, 1981. Installation view of the 6th Biennale of Sydney (1986) at the Art Gallery of New South Wales

At a time when the transition between modernism and post modernism was at its height, this exhibition explored the origins of form and imagery as well as the nature of quotation and appropriation in the art of one hundred and twenty three artists from twenty one countries. Participating artists included: Pierre Klossowski, Sigmar Polke, Richard Prince, Nancy Spero, David Salle, Robert Rooney and Jacky Redgate.

Magdalena Jetelova, 'Houses', 1986. Installation view for the 6th Biennale of Sydney (1986) at Pier 2/3

Magdalena Jetelova, Houses, 1986. Installation view for the 6th Biennale of Sydney (1986) at Pier 2/3

Ken Unsworth, 'Hymn to Beuys', 1986. Installation view for the 6th Biennale of Sydney (1986) at Pier 2/3

Ken Unsworth, Hymn to Beuys, 1986. Installation view for the 6th Biennale of Sydney (1986) at Pier 2/3

It was in 1986 that the Biennale of Sydney took contemporary art to a new venue Pier 2/3. This huge, timber wharf provided rough, industrial space of enormous proportions for large installations and site specific work. It is remembered for the captivating pieces displayed there, such as Wolfgang Laib’s sifted flower pollen, and the massive rough hewn structures of Magdalena Jetalová. The Pier made it possible to bring to the public work of a scale which hitherto was difficult to house and inspired many artists to make new work especially for Sydney. Its cathedral-like ambience transformed many unforgettable installations.

Wolfgang Laib, 'The Rice Meals for a Stone', 1986. Installation view for the 6th Biennale of Sydney (1986) at Pier 2/3

Wolfgang Laib, The Rice Meals for a Stone, 1986. Installation view for 6th Biennale of Sydney (1986) at Pier 2/3

Origins, Originality + Beyond also provided the opportunity, through texts by Rosalind Krauss, Jean-François Lyotard, Hal Foster, Thomas McEvilley and Thomas Lawson amongst others, to examine comprehensively the postmodern arena, forcefully represented by so many of the aforementioned artists in the Biennale itself. Through the related forums and other public programs, the exhibition reinforced by the presence in Sydney of many of the artists such as Bruce McLean, Laurie Anderson, Malcolm McLaren, Wolfgang Laib and Thomas Lawson, and writers such as McEvilley.