Oceanic Avant-Garde

Wednesday, 8 December 2021, 12:00:00 am UTC

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Session Convenors

Andrew McNamara, QUT
Ann Stephen, University of Sydney

Session Moderators

Ann Stephen, University of Sydney

Session Speakers

Angela Goddard, Griffith University
Ann Stephen, University of Sydney
Andrew McNamara, QUT

Avant-garde studies has extended beyond a narrow Western European-North American framework in recent times to explore new and different areas of avant-garde impact. This panel explores what would avant-garde studies look like in our area of the world. What would an oceanic avant-garde mean? This panel will explore how avant-garde studies can be framed when it occurs episodically and not as a single, continuous line of influence and development, but discerned more as a history in fragments.

PAPER #1
"Stella Creed: from central Queensland to the French avant-garde"

PRESENTER
Angela Goddard, Griffith University

Stella Creed (b.1904) grew up on a cattle station between Rockhampton and Gladstone. She entered Julian Ashton’s Sydney Art School as a teenager, studying under Anne Dangar, and in March 1930 joined her on the same ship from Sydney to France — Dangar to join Albert Gleizes’s artist colony Moly-Sabata in the Rhone Valley, and Creed to enrol in André Lhote’s school in Paris. In late 1930, Creed joined Dangar as a paying student at Moly-Sabata. Unfortunately, she had a nervous breakdown in early 1931 necessitating a return to Australia, where she abandoned art making. Creed was ‘dealt with in a particularly savage fashion’ by Dangar in several letters to Grace Crowley according to Helen Topliss, who erroneously describes Creed as Jewish. Bruce Adams incorrectly notes her as being from Sydney in his 2004 biography of Dangar. While Creed’s artistic career was interrupted, and her particulars have been misremembered by art history, many of her works and letters have been recently rediscovered. This paper will uncover Creed’s training and trajectory from rural central Queensland to French modernist avant-garde circles, contributing new knowledge of the artistic and social contexts as well as challenges for many Australian women artists of this period.

PAPER #2
Ken Coutts-Smith: on ‘transitional’ indigenous art as a way of envisioning an Oceanic avant-garde

PRESENTER
Ann Stephen, University of Sydney

When the avant-gardist artist and writer, Ken Coutts-Smith delivered the 1980 Power lecture ‘The decline of the avant-garde’ across Australasia, he made an extended stay in Darwin because, as he explained, he had “a special interest in ‘transitional’ indigenous art (and have done research with both the Indian and Eskimo peoples in Canada. And I am interested in observing contemporary indigenous art production in this country.” Guided by Nipper Kabirrika and George Chaloupka through Arnhem Land rock art, he also witnessed Justice Toohey’s Land Rights hearings at Kakadu National Park. A decade earlier, Coutts-Smith had prophetically observed how “cultural colonialism and class appropriation are interrelated and interdependent” and called it a “clear policy of cultural genocide through assimilation.” (IAAC, Portugal, 1976). His Power lecture, which rang the death-knell on avant-garde strategies of revolutionary activism, also spoke of “the incorporation of Indigenous forms into high art by means of curatorial, market and critical mechanisms.” I will argue that Coutts-Smith’s experiences in Kakadu led him to reconsider the possibility of radical forms of art. I will speculate that this is one instance in the discontinuous, marginal histories of ‘Oceanic avant-gardism’, shaped by trans-cultural and often transgressive encounters in our region.

PAPER #3
Richard Bell: between avant-garde and communal aesthetics

PRESENTER
Andrew McNamara, QUT

Indigenous art and culture focus on shared, common values that maintain enduring tradition. This can sometimes form a trap, as Richard Bell’s widely cited essay, “Bell’s Theorem” (2002), sought to make clear. Subsequently, Bell’s practice and ideas have significantly shifted the agenda concerning indigenous art and culture, both locally and internationally. For example, “Bell’s Theorem” was recently republished in the definitive international art anthology, Art in Theory, that traces changing perspectives on modern and avant-garde art. At the same time, Bell is a generous mentor to succeeding generations of younger indigenous artists. And his work, Embassy, which has been acquired by Tate Modern for exhibition in 2022, seeks to reclaim a shared, mutual space of community and gathering, while infused with avant-garde strategies of dissent, challenge, and rebuke. This paper seeks to explore how Bell balances these contrary tendencies as the basis for his practice. Does this unstable mixture, once thought impossible, suggest what an “oceanic avant-garde” might look like?

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Biographies

Angela Goddard, Griffith University

Angela Goddard is a curator, writer and Director of the Griffith University Art Museum, and a board member of the Sheila Foundation.


Ann Stephen, University of Sydney

Ann Stephen is an art historian and senior curator, Art, Chau Chak Wing Museum (CCWM), University of Sydney. Recent publications include: Light & Darkness: Late Modernism & the JW Power Bequest, (Power, 2021); and with Philip Goad, Andrew McNamara, Harriet Edquist and Isabel Wünsche, Bauhaus Diaspora and Beyond: Transforming Education through Art, Design and Architecture (Miegunyah and Power, 2019). Among her recent exhibitions are Light & Darkness, 2021, Daniel Boyd: Pediment/Impediment, 2020-21 and Coastline, 2020-22, all at the CCWM, and Bauhaus Now at Buxton Contemporary, 2019.


Andrew McNamara, QUT

Andrew McNamara teaches art history at QUT. Recent publications include: Undesign (Routledge, 2018); Surpassing Modernity: Ambivalence in Art, Politics and Society (Bloomsbury, London, 2018/19); with Philip Goad, Ann Stephen, Harriet Edquist and Isabel Wünsche, Bauhaus Diaspora and Beyond: Transforming Education through Art, Design and Architecture (Miegunyah and Power, 2019). He curated Bauhaus Now at the Museum of Brisbane, 2020-April 2021.