Primavera 2019

The annual ‘Primavera: Young Australian Artists’ at the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (MCA) showcases Australia’s next generation of up-and-coming artists aged thirty-five and younger. Now in its twenty-eighth year, ‘Primavera 2019’ includes seven artists from across the country united in their use of language forms and poetic expression. This year’s show is curated by Mitch Cairns, whose own experience as an artist meant he approached the exhibition with a sensitivity to each artist’s process and practice.

The works traverse vast conceptual terrain, exploring the museum as institution, intergenerational relationships and the endurance of cultural knowledge, and both written and spoken notions of communication. Cairn comments: ‘The artists participating in ‘Primavera 2019’ collectively embrace cultural connection, poetic registers and the vast spectrum of painting in their articulation of new language forms. I have primarily been guided by my work as a painter, as well as an artist with an interest in language and the written word.’

MCA Director Elizabeth Ann Macgregor describes ‘Primavera’ as ‘a springboard for many artists’ careers, introducing the work of younger artists to a wider audience. Cairns has curated an exceptional group of talented young artists, including the work of two young Maningrida painters, which introduces the next generation of artists from this remote community.’

The Maningrida artists Macgregor is referring to are Rosina Gunjarrwanga and Kenan Namunjdja, both descendants of accomplished artists carrying on traditional techniques in their practice. Kenan Namunjdja was taught to paint from an early age by his father, bark painter Bulanj Samuel Namunjdja, and his work illustrates the intricate rarrk (cross-hatching design) for which S. Namunjdja was renowned. Using this specific skill, Namunjdja was able to compete the last unfinished work of his late father, Kunkurra (spiral wind) and Kalawan (goanna) tracks (2019). The paintings encapsulate the passage of time and the endurance of Kuninjku knowledge systems and artistic traditions. The daughter of celebrated artist Susan Marawarr, Rosina Gunjarrwanga depicts the Djang (totemic beings, sacred sites and ceremonial designs) of her mother’s clan, the Kurulk, articulating the constancy of her culture in a way that somehow feels energising within the gallery space

Other works, such as Coen Young’s mirror paintings, make the viewer a central element, forcing us to consider our own image as reflected in his metallic paper surface. Young’s practice has, in recent years, called upon and conflated historical methodologies more commonly used in the production of the photographic image, and these large-scale works on paper continue this unique engagement with materiality.

Lucinda Lane’s installation Host (2019) comprises works from the Melbourne artist’s output contained in shipping crates, leaving the audience to decipher the accompanying wall text and attempt to envisage the artwork that is sitting in front of them but hidden from their view. This deliberate obscuration prompts the viewer to consider what’s not visible as much as what’s visible, but it seems to take more away from both the artist and audience than it contributes to the discourse. At an exhibition pivoted on the premise of revealing and unveiling emerging talent, with only seven artists represented, it seems a misuse of gallery real estate to conceal the artist’s work.

Opposite these large floor crates sits Aodhan Madden’s quiet pencil and gouache works on paper, which draw from his ‘professional career’ – as an English tutor, a copywriter, an editor, a personal results coach, a bauble painter, a social research interviewer, an artist’s assistant, a babysitter, an exam invigilator, and a production assistant at a souvenirs factory, among other ‘roles’ – explore the liquidity of language and communication.

Meanwhile, Zoe Marni Robertson’s Man Who Knows Themselves (?) (2016), utilises found Manchester adorned with texta illustration and handwritten text in an attempt to expand the vernacular of painting, and a work by the artist also adorns the MCA façade – pushing beyond the gallery walls to usurp the conventional advertising space. Perhaps more successful in this seizure of public space is Mitchel Cumming’s Companion Planter (host) (2019), one of the exhibition’s more quietly powerful works. The installation consists of a giant PVC flower, fashioned after a particular chrysanthemum that contains a chemical which acts as a pet resistant. The flower is grown not for its aesthetic value but to protect the plants around it, and Cumming uses this as an analogy for his role as director of KNULP, an artist-run space in Camperdown. Each Friday during Primavera, the sculpture will make its way from the MCA to the space where it will be presented alongside another work as, in Cumming’s words, ‘an aesthetic practice working in the background of other people’s work at KNULP.’

This reminder of alternative spaces outside the MCA feeds into Cairn’s artist-led approach to the curation of ‘Primavera 2019’. Cairns explains, ‘in the spirit of it being an artist-curated exhibition, I was very aware that the agency of the artist was paramount, and that each of the artists brought together the works they wanted in the exhibition.’ Artists setting their own parameters that side-step conventionality means the show both questions and honours the MCA as an institution capable of transforming a young artist’s life, and captures the diversity of conceptual directions and practices present within the next generation of Australian artists.

Primavera 2019: Young Australian Artists
11 October 2019 – 9 February 2020
Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, Sydney

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