National Gallery of Victoria’s Queer exhibition has been five years in the making. An Australian-first, the landmark exhibition opens on 10 March 2022 and trains a queer lens on the NGV collection, celebrating the rich diversity of the LGBTQI community and foregrounding the many untold stories. 

The exhibition originated as a themed issue of the NGV’s art journal around the time of the Marriage Equality debate in Australia in 2017. 

The bathers (1926-1933) by Duncan Grant

“We realized very quickly that there was actually a lot of content and enough to really dive quite deep and explore the whole collection. The project just kind of snowballed and got bigger and bigger,” Myles Russell-Cook, Curator of Indigenous Art at NGV told Star Observer. 

Over 400 Artworks, Spanning Cultures, Historical Eras and Mediums

The exhibition will open with over 400 artworks, spanning cultures, historical eras and mediums – from painting, drawing, photography, decorative arts, fashion, textiles to video, sculpture, design and architecture. 

The Metropolitan (1988) by Leigh Bowery

The comprehensiveness of the exhibition can be gauged from the fact that an interdepartmental curatorial team was responsible for putting it together. Besides Russell-Cook, there was Dr Ted Gott, Senior Curator of International Art; Dr Angela Hesson, Curator of Australian Art; Meg Slater, Assistant Curator of International Exhibition Projects; and Pip Wallis, Curator of Contemporary Art.

‘The First Nations Content is Quite an Exciting Part of the Show’

One of the major highlights of the exhibition will be the queer Indigenous and First Nations art collection. 

“The First Nations content is quite an exciting part of the show. We have a number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists as well as First Nations artists who are making art about the experience of being queer and First Nations or different ways of being queer and the different identities that existed before occupation,” revealed Russell-Cook.  

Much of the First Nations queer art in the exhibition are contemporary works, a fact that also shines a light on the loss and erasure of Indigenous culture and queer histories. 

Where’s Mickey (2002) by Destiny Deacon

“We don’t know what we don’t know and there’s a lot of material that was lost deliberately after European arrival,” said Russell-Cook, adding, “A number of the artists are creating works which either draws from the archives or references material that are pre-European arrival. We have artists like Clinton Naina, whose bold work ‘Mission Brown Heart’ looks at the experience of being dispossessed by missionaries in Australia post the arrival of the British. Then we have Brook Andrew’s works with photographic archives.” 

According to Russell-Cook, there are also queer interpretation of works in the NGV collection, like that of artist Hannah Bronte, “whose work has often been read as being about black matriarchy, the role of ancestral intuition for Aboriginal women, but it’s also apparently about queer spaces.” 

Highlights the Missing Bits

The exhibition, while one of the largest surveys of queer art, in Australia and beyond, also highlights the missing bits and absences from the collection. 

“We don’t have as much trans representation in the show, as we do other aspects of the queer story. We have an over representation of men and fewer women, and that’s because of the way that the collection was, acquired and the people who were in positions to acquire. So rather than kind of trying to fill the gaps or pretending that they don’t exist, we are actively talking about why they don’t exist. I think that’s one of the real strengths of the show,” said Russell-Cook. 

Queer will run from March 10, 2022 to August 21, 2022 at NGV International, St Kilda Road, Melbourne. Free entry. 

Star Observer’s Midsumma fg (Festival Guide)

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