A visitor looks at Ned Kelly 1946 by Sidney Nolan, which is part of the Australia exhibition, at the Royal Academy of Arts in London. (Photo by Bethany Clarke/Getty Images)
IT’S taken 200 years but Britons will finally get a chance to appreciate Australian art with the largest exhibition of its kind ever held opening in the British capital today.
After three years of negotiations, the Royal Academy of Arts has transported some of Australia’s most important works from indigenous artists Albert Namatjira and Emily Kame Kngwarreye to Colonial artists like John Glover and Frederick McCubbin to more contemporary Jeffrey Smart, Brett Whitely and Sidney Nolan, whose Ned Kelly is featured as the centre piece of the exhibition.
There are more than 180 paintings, photographs and prints on display taken from galleries across Australia.
Many of the artists may be household names in their hometown but Kathleen Soriano, director of the simply named “Australia” exhibition said it was a travesty they were not known to English audiences.
A visitor looks at Sidney Nolan’s series in London. Picture: Getty Images
She said since a visit to Australia in the 1980s she couldn’t understand why it was she had never knew the stories about the fabulous artists.”I sort of made it a mission of mine from that point to bring them to the attention of the British public,” she said yesterday as the doors to the exhibition were opened.
“I had been making the exhibition in my head for probably 23 years but we’ve been working hard on it for three years. I think we have got the best of the best here under the theme of land and landscape to underline the selection to tell the story not only of Australian art history but Australian history.”
Ms Soriano said it was a great moment for Australia and its art, the exhibition of which has never been seen before and opens the way for future single artist exhibitions coming to the British capital.
She said there had been a contemporary Australian art exhibition in the 1960s and another in 1923 but not for 200 years and colonialisation had such a mass exhibition of Australian art been displayed.
“Lets hope it doesn’t take a century or more before we have the next one,” she said.
British art critics at The Times and The Telegraph have given the exhibition four stars out of five with only the left-wing Guardian newspaper slamming it as too diverse, problematic and in parts the works as ghastly concluding: “I thought the days of shows like these were over. They ought to be”.