Artist colonies as alternate models for writing art history

10 December 2021, 12:00:00 am

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Session Convenors

Dr Jane Eckett, University of Melbourne

Session Moderators

Dr Jane Eckett, University of Melbourne

Session Speakers

Professor Catherine Speck, University of Adelaide / University of Melbourne
Dr Sheridan Palmer, University of Melbourne
Prof. Rex Butler, Monash University, Melbourne
Dr ADS Donaldson, National Art School, Sydney

Models for writing art history tend to oscillate between globalised world views, national histories, microcosmic regional or local histories, and the enduring monographic study of individual artists. None of these models, however, can comfortably accommodate the artist colony. Colonies tend to attract artists from elsewhere, of differing nationalities, brought together unexpectedly in a single geo-spatial frame. Sometimes it is the appeal of working with a particular ‘master’, such as Albert Gleizes at Moly-Sabata, or in a location renowned for natural beauty, such as Pont-Aven or Taos, which draws the group together; at other times it may be the invitation of a wealthy patron, as at Darmstadt, or the simple expedient of affordable studio space and accommodation. Despite differences in the reasons for their coming into being, artist colonies share a number of features in common. They bring artists—often from different communities—into close proximity with one another, increasing the chance for meaningful dialogue to occur. They generate a wealth of anecdotal records that can obscure or illuminate depending on the adopted model of writing. Stemming from a current ARC discovery project examining the Abbey Art Centre, this session considers the role of artist colonies in shaping art history.

PAPER #1
The turn-of-the century French artists’ colony as a vector for rewriting art history

PRESENTER
Professor Catherine Speck, University of Adelaide / University of Melbourne

This paper focusses on artists’ colonies in France from 1880 to 1914. Artists routinely worked in a colony over the summer, yet art histories of Australia’s expatriate artists in France tend to focus on the metropolitan experience of ateliers attended, exhibition success, and the broader issue of engagement with modernism. What has evaded scrutiny is the close engagement of Australian and American artists in the colonies in is this period. This paper focusses on two colonies, Etaples and Concarneau, as presenting evidence for writing art history in several new ways: (1) this cross-national engagement with Impressionism and Post-impressionism advances the project of writing a transnational art history, but it is one from the periphery rather than the metropolitan centre. (2) This implies developing what Petr Piotrowski has called a horizontal art history that is polyphonic and free of geographical hierarchies, as opposed to a vertical art history emanating from a cultural centre. (3) The selection of pre-industrial subjects and carefully crafted scenes of nostalgia challenges the art historical project of linking modernity with progress. (4) The strategies Australian women artists employed to work in colonies call into question international studies that present artists’ colonies as places of mostly male activity.

PAPER #2
The Abbey Art Centre as aesthetic terrain during the Cold War

PRESENTER
Dr Sheridan Palmer, University of Melbourne

In this paper I consider the ‘transient historical and cultural predicament’ of the immediate postwar years by investigating the Abbey Art Centre, a stand-alone artist colony outside London. Between 1947 and 1956 a swathe of Australian artists lived and worked at the Abbey alongside European refugee, Commonwealth and British artists. Its eclectic architectural and aesthetic environment provided a decolonised dialogue of wonderment and displacement, a sense of being both ‘out-of-time’ and elsewhere, as well as a cosmopolitan camaraderie. It can be argued that the Abbey reflected not only the inherent contradictions of a postnational world but also the nature of postwar artistic dispersal and global modernism. Yet historically the Abbey Art Centre has not been deemed important enough to be written into art history. As a site of multivalent modernism it offers an important interstitial space to evaluate how artists negotiated postwar Britain and Europe and navigated their creative journeys during this major geo-political, reconstructive cultural phase.

PAPER #3
The Abbey as Artist Colony

PRESENTERS
Prof. Rex Butler, Monash University, Melbourne
Dr ADS Donaldson, National Art School, Sydney

One of the new models for thinking the production of art in a new decolonialised art history might be the artist colony. Certainly, in Australia, one of the revolutions Aboriginal art has brought lies in the way it takes place in a series of artist colonies: self-identifying and -regulating cultural centres that have little or nothing to do with any imagined national art. Australian artists have been involved with any number of artist colonies throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, not just in Australia but around the world. This paper will address just one: the Abbey Art Centre in New Barnet, just outside of London. Owned by gallerist and ethnographic art collector William Ohly, the complex of studios operated until the late 1950s as the base for a generation of Australian artists and art historians, who enjoyed an entrée into the English art scene offered to no others either before or after. In particular, we examine the social and artistic triangle formed between 1947 and 1949 by the Sydney artists Robert Klippel, James Gleeson and Mary Webb, who were the first Australians to arrive at the Abbey and the first to leave.

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Biographies

Dr Jane Eckett, University of Melbourne

Jane Eckett is a Melbourne Research Fellow in the School of Culture and Communication, University of Melbourne, and Postdoctoral Research Assistant on Ian McLean’s ARC-funded 2020 Discovery Project, The Abbey Art Centre: Reassessing post-WW2 Australian art, 1946-1956. She writes on modernist sculpture, public art and memorials, diaspora art and émigré networks.


Professor Catherine Speck, University of Adelaide / University of Melbourne

Catherine Speck, FAHA, is Adjunct Professor, University of Adelaide and Professorial Fellow, University of Melbourne. Publications and research intersect art history, museology and curatorship; gender and art history; cross-national and post-national art histories; international exhibitions of Australian art, early exhibitions of Aboriginal art; and Aboriginal artists’ responses to Maralinga. Recent publications include: ‘Whisperings of Wilderness in Australian Centenary Landscapes’, in Colonisation, Wilderness and Spaces Between: Nineteenth-Century Landscape Painting in Australia and the United States (Terra Foundation, 2020), and Australian Art Exhibitions: Opening our Eyes (with Joanna Mendelssohn, Catherine De Lorenzo and AIison Inglis; Thames and Hudson, 2018).


Dr Sheridan Palmer, University of Melbourne

Dr Sheridan Palmer is an art historian, curator and ARC senior research associate, the University of Melbourne, and associate of the Centre of Visual Art, VCA. She worked in conservation at the National Gallery of Australia, as a curator at the Ballarat Art Gallery, has published extensively and curated The Goddess Grins: Albert Tucker and the Female Image, Heide MoMA (2007). Her major publications include Centre of the Periphery: Three European Art Historians in Melbourne, (2008); Hegel’s Owl: The life of Bernard Smith, (2016), and is currently editing the 3rd edition of Bernard Smith’s European Vision and the South Pacific.


Prof. Rex Butler, Monash University, Melbourne

Rex Butler teaches Art History at Monash University, Melbourne. He has recently co-written a book with ADS Donaldson, UnAustralian Art: 10 Essays on a Transnational Art History. 


Dr ADS Donaldson, National Art School, Sydney

ADS Donaldson teaches Painting at the National Art School in Sydney. He is the co-author and co-curator with Ann Stephen of J.W. Power Abstraction-Création Paris 1934.