The National 2021 program announced

The third iteration of the Sydney program announces its continuation.

Words: Rose of Sharon Leake

The third iteration of The National today announced four curators and 39 exhibiting artists, collectives and collaboratives for The National 2021: New Australian Art. The six-year initiative, presented previously in 2017 and 2019, will go ahead as planned in 2021 to explore the latest in contemporary Australian art.

Presenting The National 2021 across three venues – The Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW), Carriageworks and the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (MCA) – the exhibition will display a diverse array of ambitious works by a mix of emerging, mid-career and established artists.

The curators for The National 2021: New Australian Art are AGNSW Curator of Asian art, Matt Cox with AGNSW Assistant Curator of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art, Erin Vink; independent curator for Carriageworks, Abigail Moncrieff; and MCA Chief Curator, Rachel Kent.

The National 2021 will showcase 39 new and commissioned works by leading contemporary Australian artists from across the country including urban and regional centres, as well as remote communities such as the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY Lands), Yirrkala in north-east Arnhem Land, Zendah Kes (Torres Strait Islands), and Belyuen, on the north-west coast of the Northern Territory.

Co-curators Matt Cox and Erin Vink said The National 2021 at AGNSW will present 14 artist projects that explore the potential of art to heal and care for fragile natural and social ecosystems, while the 13 artists presenting works at the MCA will draw on natural materials and process to consider notions of planetary caretaking, and our relationship to place in an era of dramatic change. “The National 2021 at AGNSW will examine different modes of care: how it engenders our relationships with each other, how we navigate these relationships, and in turn the relationships we have with sentient Country,” they say. “Preferencing Indigenous ways of knowing, seeing and being, the exhibition will explore these ideas of care through varied forms of expression, including languages that are written, spoken or expressed by the body.”

Curator Abigail Moncrieff said that the artists selected for Carriageworks respond to the key issues of our time – emphasising sociality, collaborative enquiry and works that speak to history and experiences of place. “The artists are connected across generations and brought together by a spirit of collaboration. Embedded within the collaborative relationships intrinsic to the selected artists, a constellation of networks and affinities play out across the space. With an attention to the present moment, many of the works consider responsibility and lived experience through psychological and intuitive responses, alongside some of the most urgent and activist voices from around Australia.”

At the end of a tumultuous year for the art scene amidst the COVID-19 crisis – particularly Carriageworks which went into voluntary administration in May of 2020 before being bailed out by philanthropists and the NSW government – today’s announcement sparks new hope for artists and art lovers come 2021 and, thankfully, beyond.

Following the program’s success after its first two iterations, all three venues have also announced that they will commit to the extension of The National to continue the collaborative venture connecting three of Sydney’s key cultural precincts – The Domain, Redfern, and Circular Quay. Over the past six years, the program has helped facilitate career-defining opportunities for 149 contemporary Australian artists and has attracted more than 600,00 visitors.

The National 2021 artists are:

Art Gallery of New South Wales

Fiona Hall (TAS)

Gabriella Hirst (NSW and England)

Wona Bae and Charlie Lawler exhibiting as a collaboration (VIC)

Betty Muffler and Maringka Burton exhibiting as a collaboration (SA)

Lisa Sammut (ACT)

Benjamin Sexton (VIC)

Justin Shoulder (NSW)

Leyla Stevens (NSW)

Phaptawan Suwannakudt (NSW)

Abdullah M.I. Syed (NSW and Pakistan)

Alick Tipoti (QLD)

James Tylor (ACT)

Judy Watson (QLD)


A Constructed World (VIC and France)

Vernon Ah Kee and Dalisa Pigram with Marrugeku (QLD & WA)

Janet Burchill and Jennifer McCamley (VIC)

Mitch Cairns (NSW)

Lorraine Connelly-Northey (NSW)

Alana Hunt (WA)

Karrabing Film Collective (NT)

Michelle Nikou (SA)

Sarah Rodigari (NSW)

Darren Sylvester (VIC)

Brendan Van Hek (NSW)

Isadora Vaughan (VIC)

Museum of Contemporary Art Australia

Lauren Berkowitz (VIC)

Maree Clarke (VIC)

Mehwish Iqbal (NSW)

Kate Just (VIC)

Deborah Kelly (NSW)

Betty Kuntiwa Pumani (SA)

Sancintya Mohini Simpson (QLD)

Cameron Robbins (VIC)

Caroline Rothwell (NSW)

Sally Smart (VIC)

Mulkun Wirrpanda (NT)

John Wolseley (VIC)

Judith Wright (QLD)

Agatha Gothe-Snape (NSW) (at AGNSW and Carriageworks)

The National 2021: New Australian Art will show at the Art Gallery of New South Wales from 26 March to 5 September 2021, Carriageworks from 26 March to 20 June 2021 and the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia from 26 March to 22 August 2021.

Image: Curators of The National 2021. Photo: Anna Kucera


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