New exhibition considers abstraction in the third millennium

2 May 2013

Elizabeth Pulie, 'Geometric Collection' (detail), 2000, gouache on card.
Elizabeth Pulie, 'Geometric Collection' (detail), 2000, gouache on card.

The ideas and motives behind an array of Australia's most inventive contemporary artists are investigated in the University of Sydney Art Gallery's latest exhibition, opening this Saturday.

Test Pattern is a collection of paintings, works on paper and video installations from 11 leading Australian artists. All the works come from the artists' personal collections and all were created at the turn of the millennium around the year 2000, at a time when painting was being redefined internationally, says guest curator Geoff Newton.

"It also places into context current attitudes towards abstraction and its place in Australian culture today," Newton says.

All those included in this cross-generational exhibition-survey - ranging from 1960s stalwart Vivienne Binns to the emerging painter and writer, Lisa Radford - have studied painting.

Test Pattern is also represents changing views and debates about painting. In the 1990s, while Newton was studying at Slade School of Fine Art, during the emergence of the Young British Artists, it appeared, once again, that painting as a contemporary practice was dead, given the proliferation of performance, photography, kinetic and video art.

"I used to think that the future of painting would involve lasers and kinetic energy. Back then it seemed everyone was ready for a new movement… I imagined the Y2K bug changing everything," says Newton.

In fact the exhibition reveals how lively and inventive the extended practice of painting is today. It includes moving-image works that respond, with great wit, to the medium of painting. An example of the latter is Danius Kesminas and Michael Stevenson's restaging of a famous interview with German painter Gerhard Richter. The remake imagines Richter in Australia, both "taking the gas" out of a highly theoretical interview and also addressing the difficulty Australian artists have with abstraction, says Newton.

"It's something to revolt against in Australia, something we both push ourselves towards and pull away from."

Energetic and diverse, Test Pattern offers an insightful overview of "found abstraction" in Australian contemporary art. The exhibition is touring nationally.

Exhibition details

What: Test Pattern exhibition 

When: 4 May to 26 July

Opening hours Monday to Friday, 10am to 4.30pm; first Saturday of each month, 12pm to 4pm, closed Sundays and public holidays

Where: University Art Gallery, War Memorial Arch, the Quadrangle, Camperdown Campus 

Cost: Free

Contact: 02 9351 6883

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Katie Szittner, 02 9351 2261, 0478 316 809,