A

is for ab­stract, avant- garde and Gallery A, which was the first to pro­mote con­tem­po­rary Aus­tralian art, writes Ros­alie Higson

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Arts -

that got be­yond lo­ca­tion. At that time every­one was very pas­sion­ate about what they were do­ing and the gallery sup­ported that. There was no doc­trine handed down; it was about cre­ativ­ity and pos­si­bil­i­ties.’’

Ann Thom­son had her first solo show at Gallery A in 1974: ‘‘ Other gal­leries were show­ing es­tab­lished artists, but Gallery A had a way of mak­ing things hap­pen. It was like get­ting the rough clay and do­ing some­thing with it.’’

About 25 years af­ter its clo­sure, how­ever, Gallery A’s achieve­ments were in dan­ger of be­ing for­got­ten. Hence Gallery A Syd­ney 1964-1983, a large-scale ex­hi­bi­tion open­ing at Camp­bell­town Arts Cen­tre on March 21 and New­cas­tle Re­gion Art Gallery on May 9.

‘‘ It seemed a good time to go back; it’s amaz­ing how even the re­cent past can be lost quite quickly. Things dis­ap­pear, peo­ple die,’’ cu­ra­tor and cul­tural his­to­rian John Mur­phy says.

Gallery A broke new ground with pos­si­bly the world’s first in­stal­la­tion piece, Peter Kennedy’s pho­to­graphic Lu­mi­nal Se­quences , in 1971. And in 1982 the gallery hosted one of the first ex­hi­bi­tions of in­dige­nous art, fea­tur­ing Pa­punya Tula artists, fol­lowed by Lardil artist and sto­ry­teller Dick Rough­sey, and barks from Oen­pelli.

‘‘ It was ex­cit­ing to see that work in a com­mer­cial gallery and not as sou­venirs,’’ Lewis says. Yet the Pa­punya Tula works ini­tially got a cool re­cep­tion. ‘‘ It took quite a long time for that to sink in with other peo­ple, but looking back through the records, the Na­tional Gallery bought from that ex­hi­bi­tion, so the works were go­ing to good homes,’’ she says.

Al­though Gallery A has been closed for a quar­ter-cen­tury, Mur­phy’s cu­ra­to­rial job was made eas­ier be­cause the prac­ti­cal Lewis had stored boxes in her garage con­tain­ing in­vi­ta­tion lists, artists’ files, bills, pho­to­graphs and slides ( re­mem­ber them?), among other items.

‘‘ It’s so easy to think, ‘ Oh this in­vi­ta­tion is just a lit­tle piece of pa­per, I’ll throw it away,’ ’’ Mur­phy says. ‘‘ But it all be­comes valu­able: even the ty­pog­ra­phy gives a clue to the era.’’

He bor­rowed works from pub­lic and pri­vate col­lec­tions: ‘‘ Luck­ily, be­cause of the stan­dard of Gallery A, many of the state gal­leries and the Na­tional Gallery of Aus­tralia ac­quired works.’’

Ab­stract ex­pres­sion­ism had emerged in New York in the ’ 50s and it seemed a log­i­cal step for the third Gallery A to open in New York’s SoHo in 1970, again en­cour­aged by Mead­more, who had

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