Sullivan+Strumpf Sydney’s first presentation for the year, hosted across both levels of their Eora/Sydney gallery, showcases three substantial new bodies of work from one of Australia’s foremost contemporary artists, Tony Albert, alongside a curated exhibition of emerging First Nations artists.
In the ground floor gallery, a 14-meter-long wallpapered installation drawn from the artist’s acclaimed Margaret Preston series is the centrepiece for The Garden, punctuated by new works on canvas, resin objects, and pieces created from appropriate vintage objects.
Representative of a transitional period, of which Albert says, “Planting seeds, growing new ideas and looking to possibilities for the future is always at the forefront of my thinking and practice”; the body underscores common themes in Albert’s work, such as the historic appropriation of Indigenous Australian iconography for use in domestic design and on decorative objects.
Running concurrently in the upstairs gallery, Albert premieres Forbidden Fruit, a provocative and playful new exhibition featuring a monumental installation of 190 collaged canvases exploring the fetishization of the Other. Originally conceived in the lead up to Sydney WorldPride 2023, this new body is – as Daniel Browning writes in the accompanying exhibition essay – “surprisingly – numbly homoerotic”.
Browning opens his essay with the possibility that Albert’s reaching for Forbidden Fruit, is a move that “constitutes a certain risk for the artist”. In describing Albert’s body of almost 200 canvases the writer both expertly contextualises:
“These ideograms, pictographs or glyphs of the male pubis and genitalia are literally stripped back to their mere exaggerated form, devoid of glistening flesh and saturated with ‘skin’ colours so improbable that they might have been synthesised by paint manufacturer Pantone. If you flip the ideogram vertically, the triple pendant form flips the bird – giving you the extended middle finger. Is this some kind of post-Referendum blak humour, a 2023 version of Albert’s most confrontational work, the monumental Pay Attention 2009?
Instead of an exhortation to listen and be more conscious – which is how I read Albert’s declaration, based on a lithograph by Bruce Nauman – Forbidden Fruit reckons with sexuality in a straight-up way, a coming out into full disclosure in his work. It is a declarative statement that this Girramay man from the rainforest country around Cardwell in north Queensland, born blak and queer in Brisbane, will no longer excise it from his work in the performative act of self-censorship. Albert’s new body of work also stakes a new claim – a refusal to accept the homophobic tenor that still prevails in many workplaces, public spaces and indeed, within some First Nations communities”.
Running alongside his own solo shows, Albert has curated The Preview, an exhibition of new works from emerging First Nations artists Aidan Heartshorn, Keemon Willams and Erica Muriata. Presented in Sullivan+Strumpf Sydney’s Preview Room, this important group show seeks to celebrate and elevate the next generation of contemporary Indigenous artists.
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