News

University of Sydney restages Australia's first conceptual art show


1 August 2013

Noon time-piece (April) 1969; Roger Cutforth; type C photographs, photocopies. Graphite, transparent synthetic polymer resin, cardboard, typed text, cotton, adhesive tape and letterpress.
Noon time-piece (April) 1969; Roger Cutforth; type C photographs, photocopies. Graphite, transparent synthetic polymer resin, cardboard, typed text, cotton, adhesive tape and letterpress.

Australia's first conceptual art exhibition, originally staged in Melbourne in 1969, is being recreated at the University of Sydney Art Gallery at the exhibition 1969: The Black Box of Conceptual Art.

Burn Cutforth Ramsden originally ran at the Pinacotheca gallery in St Kilda. The University Art Gallery has reunited the three works of Ian Burn, Roger Cutforth and Mel Ramsden for this free exhibition, opening on 3 August.

The reconstruction will be accompanied by video, journals, paintings and other works made at the time by the three young expatriates, providing a broader context for their work and demonstrating how their art emerged from the edges of late modernist painting.

A month after the exhibition first ran conceptual art grabbed headlines in Australia when artists wrapped Sydney's Little Bay in fabric. In comparison Burn Cutforth Ramsden was a relatively low-key affair but was nonetheless prescient.

"It's important to reflect on this exhibition in light of the significance of these artists in 2013 and because conceptual art is one of the major reference points for contemporary artists today," says gallery Senior Art Curator Ann Stephen.

"The modest, even primitive looking, artworks - bound photocopies, small photographs, and texts pinned to the wall - must have appeared strange in Melbourne in 1969. But the works have proven important and are housed in major art museums today."

The three participating artists have since made their mark internationally as conceptual artists but in 1969 were relatively unknown. Based in New York at the time, they were unable to travel to Australia to install their works so instead mailed them across with instructions on how they should be exhibited.

"The use of ordinary materials and new technologies of mass reproduction like Xeroxing allowed these three artists to send their works offshore, and in this way they aimed to eliminate time lags, offering Australia a direct line to the centre of contemporary art practice," says Dr Stephen.

Soon after Burn Cutforth Ramsden, US-based artists Christo and Jeanne Claude created the epic Wrapped Coast - One Million Square Feet by wrapping Little Bay in 90,000 square metres of fabric.

Although the Pinacotheca exhibition attracted less attention, it influenced a generation of local artists. Australian artist John Nixon recalls: "For me - following on from the Marcel Duchamp retrospective at the National Gallery of Victoria - the idea of a more conceptually based practice of art became apparent. Seeing the exhibition Burn Cutforth Ramsden further articulated a way of doing just this."

1969: The Black Box of Conceptual Art runs until 25 October.


Event details

What: 1969: The Black Box of Conceptual Art 

When: 3 August to 25 October

Opening hours Monday to Friday, 10am to 4pm; first Saturday of each month, 12 to 4pm

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

Cost: Free


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Media enquiries: Jocelyn Prasad, 02 9114 1382, jocelyn.prasad@sydney.edu.au

Katie Szittner, 02 9351 2261, 0478 316 809, katie.szittner@sydney.edu.au