The shape of things to come – Miriam Kelly

Art Almanac - - Contents - Miriam Kelly

‘The shape of things to come’ could not be a more apt ti­tle for the in­au­gu­ral Bux­ton Con­tem­po­rary ex­hi­bi­tion. With this phrase, bor­rowed from Ben­jamin Arm­strong’s al­chemic linocuts printed in metal­lic pig­ment, cu­ra­tor Melissa Keys es­tab­lishes a sen­ti­ment that ad­dresses the con­cep­tual pa­ram­e­ters of the 77 works on dis­play, along with the role this show plays in fore­ground­ing the jour­ney of Mel­bourne’s new­est in­sti­tu­tion; past, present and fu­ture.

Bux­ton Con­tem­po­rary is the out­come of the gift to the Univer­sity of Mel­bourne by Michael and Janet Bux­ton, com­pris­ing pre­dom­i­nantly Aus­tralian art­works from the 1980s to 2017. The cou­ple be­gan col­lect­ing in 1995, in­spired by the phi­lan­thropy they wit­nessed in Amer­ica in 1990, and later by the fo­cused col­lec­tion donated by Loti and Vic­tor Smor­gon to the Mu­seum of Con­tem­po­rary Art Aus­tralia in 1995. The Col­lec­tion has been care­fully crafted over the past 28 years with the de­fined in­ten­tion to even­tu­ally do­nate the hold­ings for the ben­e­fit of pub­lic ac­cess. Un­der the ‘Mu­se­ums and Col­lec­tions’ um­brella, the 354 works will be trans­ferred to the univer­sity over the com­ing five years, ac­com­pa­nied by ad­di­tional do­na­tions to­wards the con­struc­tion and op­er­a­tion of the Bux­ton Con­tem­po­rary mu­seum. Join­ing Keys as the Di­rec­tor is for­mer Aus­tralian War Me­mo­rial Head of Art, Ryan John­ston.

Bux­ton Con­tem­po­rary has taken shape with a de­sign by iconic ar­chi­tec­tural firm Fen­der Kat­sa­lidis that trans­formed pre-ex­ist­ing struc­tures on the Vic­to­rian Col­lege of the Arts cam­pus. The gal­leries are pitched to bal­ance vary­ing de­mands of scale and medium and the lay­out of the in­ter­nal ex­hi­bi­tion spa­ces al­lows for the per­fect slow re­veal, both of the ar­chi­tec­ture and art. Care­ful slices of nat­u­ral light warm the edges of the cool spa­ces and op­er­ate as bea­cons of tran­si­tion – in the stair­well to the up­per level, and be­tween the gallery and the fu­ture ed­u­ca­tion space.

Keys, like all in­volved with the project, has been burn­ing the can­dle at both ends, yet when we meet there is noth­ing but in­fec­tious ex­cite­ment in her de­meanour. Keys talked through six broadly the­matic rooms of ‘The shape of things to come’ with ref­er­ence to tiny im­ages in the foam-core ar­chi­tec­tural model, walk­ing her fin­gers through the gal­leries to mark out the con­nec­tions be­tween works and artists from across the thirty-odd years. The show will be ac­com­pa­nied by a hand­some cat­a­logue with three aca­demic es­says along­side Keys’ in­formed in­tro­duc­tion. ‘The shape of things to come’, Keys ex­plains in her text, ‘sets out to trace a con­stel­la­tion of ideas around the role and agency of the artist in cul­ture, so­ci­ety and pol­i­tics,’ and has brought to­gether works of art and their mak­ers with cat­e­gories such as ‘sto­ry­teller, vi­sion­ary, wit­ness, dis­senter, fore­seer and imag­iner of dif­fer­ent pos­si­bil­i­ties and fu­tures.’

The ex­hi­bi­tion re­sists a chrono­log­i­cal hang, as the col­lec­tion was never in­tended to be an ex­haus­tive sur­vey of the era. How­ever, one of the ear­li­est works in the ex­hi­bi­tion – a 1991 it­er­a­tion of Peter Tyn­dall’s long-term project A Per­son Looks At A Work of Art/some­one looks at some­thing…

– high­lights the con­sciously re­flec­tive and con­cep­tual tone of both col­lec­tion and show. As

Keys’ es­say notes, Tyn­dall sought to dis­rupt the act of look­ing to chal­lenge ‘the art sys­tem and in­di­vid­ual au­di­ence mem­bers to be con­scious of their po­si­tion within the ex­pe­ri­ence of art, and im­plic­itly, within wider so­ci­ety.’ Fur­ther works un­der­pinned by the so­cial pol­i­tics of look­ing in­clude Juan Dav­ila’s ‘most recog­nis­able and in­fa­mous provo­ca­tions’ with the paint­ing Art i$ Ho­mo­sex­ual (1983-86), Des­tiny Dea­con and Vi­rig­ina Fraser’s early video con­sid­er­a­tion of the per­sis­tence of racial stereo­types in Forced into Im­ages (2001), and Daniel Boyd’s richly loaded trib­utes to Indige­nous sci­en­tific knowl­edge in car­tog­ra­phy, oceanog­ra­phy and me­te­o­rol­ogy in Un­ti­tled (TI1) (2015).

As the ex­hi­bi­tion ti­tle sug­gests, many works in this show have been se­lected for their al­lu­sion to the fu­ture, help­ing to fore­shadow the la­tent po­ten­tial of the new in­sti­tu­tion. Jess John­son and Si­mon Ward’s dig­i­tal in­stal­la­tion Whol Why Wurld (2017) – the most re­cent work in the col­lec­tion – holds ref­er­ences to what Keys de­scribes as ‘por­tals or cos­mic gate­ways into an­i­mated pos­si­ble worlds and fu­tures.’ The ex­hi­bi­tion will test the wa­ters for the in­sti­tu­tion as it finds its points of dif­fer­ence in the South­bank arts precinct, and the sec­tor more broadly.

Bux­ton Con­tem­po­rary launches with some key tenets of the orig­i­nal Michael Bux­ton Col­lec­tion; pri­mar­ily the sup­port of lead­ing prac­ti­tion­ers who have made a sig­nif­i­cant con­tri­bu­tion to con­tem­po­rary art. The im­me­di­ate fu­ture for the mu­seum is how­ever – at the time of writ­ing – more loosely slated, with pro­pos­als to de­velop fur­ther fo­cus col­lec­tion ex­hi­bi­tions and crit­i­cal sur­veys of artists, to es­tab­lish di­a­logues be­tween in­ter­na­tional and Aus­tralian prac­tices, to broaden the hold­ings with an Aus­tralasian fo­cus, and of­fer strong pub­lic pro­gram­ming. It is an ex­cit­ing task ahead for the grow­ing team as they con­tinue to ar­tic­u­late the shape of things to come.

Bux­ton Con­tem­po­rary 9 March to 24 June, 2018

Des­tiny Dea­con & Vir­ginia Fraser, Forced into im­ages, 2001, film still, Su­per 8 film trans­ferred to video, DVD for­mat, 9:00 min­utes, silent Cour­tesy the artists, Roslyn Ox­ley9, Syd­ney and Bux­ton Con­tem­po­rary, Mel­bourne

Jess John­son & Si­mon Ward, Whol Why Wurld, 2017, MilkyzWae, film still, sound­track by An­drew Clarke

Cour­tesy the artists, Dar­ren Knight Gallery, Syd­ney, Jack Han­ley Gallery, New York and Bux­ton Con­tem­po­rary, Mel­bourne

Michael Bux­ton Pho­to­graph: James Greer

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