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A lovely portrait of Gordon Bennett speaking for himself

posted by Jeremy Eccles | 06.11.20

Gallery: Queensland Art Gallery | Modern Art Gallery (QAGOMA)
Appointment:
07.11.20: 21.03.21

‘Unfinished Business: The Art of Gordon Bennett‘is the first large-scale exhibition of Bennett’s work since 2007. The exhibition presents in depth Bennett’s key series, his most important and admired works, and includes many works that have rarely, if ever , been exposed.

Gordon Bennett (1955-2014) voraciously consumed the history of art, current events, rap music and fiction, and turned it all into a staunch critique of how identities are made and how history shapes individual and shared cultural conditions. The public will discover nearly 200 works of art ranging from installation and sculptural assemblage to painting, drawing, video and ceramics.

To celebrate this all-encompassing show, I can’t think of anything better than sharing my Bennett obituary, posted here on 6/28/2014.

“I am a native Australian. My mother is a native Australian and her mother before that and so on for countless generations. My father was English. My work comes from a small town and an Australian suburb. I was socialized in a predominantly Anglo-Saxon society where attitudes towards indigenous peoples still seemed to be entrenched on a social Darwinist level. From cocktails to workplace parties, predominantly derogatory opinions are exchanged about indigenous peoples with unmistakable ease and confidence.

So wrote the late Gordon Bennett in 1992 in the catalog in which his art was included in a government sponsored exhibition in South Korea.

Several significant schools of thought can be drawn from this statement. The first is obviously the openness of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in choosing this angry young artist to represent Australia. But most important is the fact that Bennett had completed his artistic training at the Queensland College of Art in 1988, just four years earlier. Although he may have started his artistic practice relatively late in his life after working as a Telstra linesman, the heart-wrenching experience of discovering his Aboriginal identity only in his mid-teens – was kept from him for fear that he wasn’t “taken away” – had given him enough time to know with clarity that “My identity has been shaped by the historical narratives of colonialism with all its romantic illusions and factual suppressions.”

And his art will linger there for the next 25 years with a wit, intellectual rigor and visual acuity that enabled him to capture the familiar images of van Gogh and Mondrian, Imants Tillers and Margaret Preston, of ‘Ai Weiwei and, above all, the African. – the American John-Michel Basquiat, and re-orders it to his own satisfaction – and that of the market. He even borrowed the dotting from desert artists like Emily Kngwarreye. “I appropriate and recontextualize found images that have accumulated a certain historical significance over time,” he said in 1992.

In 1998, Bennett wrote a letter to the late Basquiat when he was invited to exhibit at the contemporary art fair in New York City, the American’s hometown, explaining his appropriation of the rap aesthetic of its brand on the grounds that they shared a fluidity of identity. It was a white boy who had suddenly turned black. For in 1998 Bennett felt he had been “crowned in Australia as an ‘Urban Aboriginal’ artist – emphasized as that title is by racism and ‘primitivism’ – and I do not wear it well.” And he concluded this posthumous letter: “To be an identified racial refugee is to tap dance on a tightrope. You lost your balance (died of a heroin overdose), I feel I can understand why. I salute you”.

Bennett never allowed his Brisbane dealer Josh Milani to sell his work to Indigenous sections of state galleries or to specialist Indigenous art dealers. Unlike other artists who rejected the “Urban Aboriginal” label, such as Richard Bell, he never participated in the Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Art Awards.

Gordon Bennett was born in Monto, Central Queensland on October 9, 1955 to Grace (née Bradley) and Don Bennett and raised in rural Victoria and Queensland. The family traveled extensively with Don’s work, eventually settling in Nambour, where Gordon attended Nambour State High School around the same time as Wayne Swan and Kevin Rudd. He called himself an “average student,” but excelled in art, social studies and English, subjects that would be central to his future career.

Rudd would later open in 2003 an exhibition of Bennett’s paintings criticizing Australia’s involvement in the Iraq war, an apparent internationalization of his subject, as explained by Ian Mclean, author of the Sherman Gallery catalog – because Bennett himself has rarely spoken of his own work: “Recently the Australians re-elected a government campaigning with the xenophobic rhetoric familiar from erstwhile white Australia – (therefore) maybe events in far away places. could shake this national amnesia ”.

Later, at the Sydney Biennale in 2008, Bennett would seek to shake up the august NSW Art Gallery by swapping the Aboriginal art in the basement of the Yiribana Gallery for the colonial art above. All the displaced art would be hung upside down – which would have made little difference to the gallery’s tribal paintings, invariably painted flat on the floor for viewing from all directions. AGNSW rejected the idea out of hand.

But it was a sufficiently revolutionary project for Biennale curator Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev to recruit Bennett for her prestigious Documenta 2012 exhibition in Germany, which led to her selection for the current Berlin Biennale. Berlin’s works are a series of thirty ‘naive’ Notepad Drawings from the early 1990s, never shown before. If they aesthetically resemble naive art, explains his dealer Milani, it is because they are very raw – they were made with urgency, immediacy, like an emotional purge. In 2012, we had a conversation about how Australia was becoming more politically conservative; he couldn’t believe Tony Abbott was even a candidate for prime minister. He joked that he painted Tony Abbott before he even heard of him. He was referring to the guy in a picture talking about his erection and saying, “The fucking boongs have too much.” I found it very funny and showed the series to the curator of the Berlin Biennale, Juan Gaitan, who exclaimed: ‘I must have them for my show’! It suited his idea that artists can embody political tensions through their biography or heritage ”.

Milani continued: “His sudden death (of natural causes) comes at a time when his work is finding new audiences internationally.” Bennett certainly lived to justify the early promise of his 1990 Moet and Chandon scholarship, a work of art on the cover of Bernard Smith ‘Australian Painting’ in 1991, selection for the Havana Biennale and a group exhibition at the Guggenheim in NY in 1994, and a European tour for the 1999 Queensland Art Gallery exhibition, ‘History and Significance in Gordon Bennett’s Art‘.

Subsequent solo retrospectives took place at the National Gallery of Victoria in 2007 and, ironically, at the Museum of Contemporary Aboriginal Art in Utrecht in 2012.

Josh Milani concluded his assessment: “Gordon was truly the first artist to explore our Aboriginal past using concept art techniques. To that extent, it really opened the door for artists who followed into similar territory, such as Brook Andrew, Vernon Ah Kee, Tony Albert, Danie Mellor, etc.

In 1977, Bennett married Leanne, who was a tour de force throughout his life and his art. And in 1993, they had a daughter Caitlin, whom Gordon cherished until the end.

His life may have ended, but Gordon Bennett’s art has had a life of its own. In 2016, for example, two works were selected for the inaugural project of the Tate Gallery / Museum of Contemporary Art Australia to exhibit more contemporary works from that country in London. The beginning “Island of possession” (Abstraction)) “ 1991 was a choice. The other was ‘Number nine’ (2008), one of a series of abstractions that seemed to directly appropriate Papunya Tula’s later linear works. In a conversation with the late Bill Wright, Bennett commented on his transition from figurative paintings to abstraction: “It was a way forward for me. It made people realize that I am first and foremost an artist and not a professional “aboriginal”. I have found that people always confuse me as a person with the content of my work. I needed to change direction, at least for a while. Art over art seems appropriate at the moment. The Stripe abstract painting series represents a kind of freedom for me as an artist.

But it was one of his first, still identifiable figurative works, that made headlines last year at Sotheby’s first Aboriginal art sale in New York City. ‘Self-portrait: But I always wanted to be one of the good guys’ (1990), described by Tim Klingender i / c the sale as “arguably his most important work”, sold for US $ 437,500. Unfortunately, contrary to what I suspect from the first Australian screening of some of these ” Notepad Drawings’90s, not in the exhibition

Url: https://www.qagoma.qld.gov.au/whats-on/exhibitions/unfinished-business-the-art-of-gordon-bennett

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Contact details

Gallery: Queensland Art Gallery | Modern Art Gallery (QAGOMA)
E-mail: gallery@qagoma.qld.gov.au
Telephone: +61 7 3840 7303
Address: Stanley Place South Bank Brisbane 4100 QLD

Gallery: Queensland Art Gallery | Modern Art Gallery (QAGOMA)
E-mail: gallery@qagoma.qld.gov.au
Telephone: +61 7 3840 7303
Address: Stanley Place South Bank Brisbane 4100 QLD


GORDON BENNETT SOLO IN QUEENSLAND

The record-breaking painting, ‘Self Portrait: But I Always Wanted to Be One of the Nice People’ (1990) which sold for US $ 437,500 in the United States last year

GORDON BENNETT SOLO IN QUEENSLAND

One of the rough drawings from the notepad, ‘Untitled (Caucasian)’ (1998) seen at the Berlin Biennale upon Bennett’s death


Where is the exhibition?


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