Biennale of Australian Art

Its website proclaims that the Art Gallery of Ballarat, opened in 1890, is the oldest purpose-built art gallery building in Australia, and the first to be built outside a capital city in the overseas dominions of the British Empire. That’s unsurprising: the goldrush brought riches to the new state of Victoria. Melbourne’s National Gallery of Victoria began in the 1870s, but interestingly, Ballarat came to its fine permanent home even before Sydney’s Art Gallery of NSW.


The influx of migrants in the goldrush era brought many educated and socially progressive people to build Victoria’s cultural base, and regional galleries developed rapidly in that state.

During the inaugural Biennale of Australian Art (BOAA), eleven solo exhibitions will run concurrently in The Art Gallery of Ballarat, its annex and function hall. But the splendid city itself, its parks and lake and public spaces, will also be hosting the show, to be held over six weeks from 21 September to 6 November. A regional city in spring, full of art.

BOAA Managing Director, sculptor Julie Collins shared her enthusiasm for her Biennale with me on the phone. Julie, still practising, showed her work with me when I had a gallery in Melbourne in the 1980s. I remember a bright young woman just entering the art world, and as we spoke I felt irrationally proud, as if I’d contributed in some small way to this new initiative. Then, we were both in the capital city, but technology now delivers images from her project online. We who live in the regions have to travel, to see collections and curated shows, and major funds go, reasonably enough, with population density, to the capitals. So it is very exciting to hear about a Biennale, developed from a regional city where it has arrived through the vision of an artist.
Julie moved to Ballarat thirteen years ago, and realised that the city would be ideal for a Biennale on the European model, a whole of city experience. Five years ago work began, and now the regional city has its first Biennale.

Julie’s curatorial theme is distinction: quality, if you like. She sought the best work across the country, and avoided placing her own ideas on the selection of work. Sixty-five solo exhibitions will be installed across the town. Tourism and hospitality supply the bottom line for arts events, so the BOAA is liaising with local hospitality groups to provide four pop-up bars and pop-up music too.

A sculpture walk around Lake Wendouree should entice, and The Great Australian Landscape, consisting of nine eight-metre landscape works, will hang in St Andrews Church. There will be a landscape from every state and territory, and one from Ballarat (for BOAA, the city of Ballarat is temporarily our ninth state).

The $1.5 million budget from local government, philanthropic sources, the State Government and local businesses has been used very well. Julie is proud that $800,000 of this has been allocated for the production of new work, including transport. This has meant that work from far North Queensland and Western Australia could be included, rendering the Biennale diverse and inclusive.

The work in the show can be for sale, and the Biennale will take a twenty-five per cent commission. Julie was prepared to argue the case for a commission, but there was no need for that with me; if this event can generate income for the future and to keep its costs down, everyone will benefit. A music program is planned to complement the visual arts. It’s such an opportunity for artists from across the country to meet within a spacious but contained town, enjoying ease of access, ease of movement in those wide streets.

There will be no complaints about the director selecting from particular gallery streams. BOAA will concentrate on, indeed it will celebrate, Australian art, its variety of art practice, the work of Indigenous artists, newcomers and stars from the many cultural backgrounds who make up the nation. Different styles, aesthetics and politics abound.

Internationally renowned artists such as Stelarc, Sean Codeiro and Claire Healy, and Ken and Julia Yonetani will be seen beside the Numina sisters, Indigenous artists from the Northern Territory. Printmaker Tim Jones, sculptor Wendy Teakel and multimedia artist Tatjana Este are among those from Victoria. New South Wales artists include sculptor Vince Vozzo and painter Cash Brown. Among Ballarat artists are Wendy Bolger and sound artist Lynden Nicholls.

Painter Faridah Cameron and photographer Micheila Petersfield are among the Tasmanians, Queenslanders include photographer/costume maker Gerwyn Davies, and Danish Quapoor, who draws and makes collages. From Western Australia are mixed media artist Abdul-Rahman Abdullah, and painter Peggy Griffiths. Sculptor Deb Sleeman and glass artist Yhonnie Scarce, from South Australia, and Nicci Haynes, whose work hovers between print, video and performance, and sculptor Michael le Grand, both from the ACT, will also participate.

The emphasis on Australian work defines BOAA as much as its location in a regional centre and the careful planning of the six-week program that aims to bring new creative energy to the people of Ballarat.

This preview was originally published in Artist profile, Issue 44, 2018

Biennale of Australian Art
21 September to 6 November, 2018
Art Gallery of Ballarat and around Ballarat, Vic


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