Primavera at 25, MCA Collection

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Established in 1992, “Primavera” showcases the work of young Australian artists aged 35 years and under. Curator Megan Robson from the Museum of Contemporary Art highlights some special features of the “Primavera at 25” exhibition, which can now be viewed at the Glasshouse Regional Gallery. 

Hi Megan. Tell us a bit about your role as curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia.

My role is involved with all stages of an exhibition, from the initial research into artists and artworks through to the practical planning of how individual artworks will be installed in the gallery; in addition to working on the resources and events that accompany an exhibition from writing for an exhibition catalogue, producing online resources or developing programs and events that explore key themes and ideas. 

Each day is different and can include everything from visiting artists in their studio to discuss new artworks for upcoming exhibitions to giving a tour to Museum patrons, sourcing particular materials for an upcoming project (anything and everything from thousands of 3D glasses to a specialist publication) and meetings with the public and education teams to workshop upcoming programs. 

Please share a brief history behind the Primavera exhibition.

Established in 1992, Primavera showcases the work of young Australian artists aged 35 years and under. Each year, Primavera provides an opportunity for young artists from around the country to present their work in a major museum. 

Primavera was initiated through an act of extraordinary generosity. In November 1991, on the eve of the opening of the MCA, Dr Edward Jackson AM and Mrs Cynthia Jackson AM and their family offered to endow an exhibition of work by young artists in memory of their daughter and sister, Belinda Jackson, a talented jeweller. As MCA Director Elizabeth Ann Macgregor OBE has noted “it is a remarkable feat to have turned this tragedy into such a wonderful opportunity for the artists of the future”.

Primavera at 25: MCA Collection celebrates 25 years since the inception of the Primavera Collection, which is an amazing milestone! Why do you think this exhibition has achieved such longevity in the art world?

Primavera is important, because it was the first exhibition of its kind in Australia – in 1992 when the exhibition started, no other national museum had a dedicated, ongoing program to showcase the work of young artists. One of the longest-running exhibition series in the country, Primavera has become a significant platform for early career artists. From 1992 to 2017, over 214 artists have participated in the annual exhibition. Former Primavera artists – such as Shaun Gladwell, Mikala Dwyer, Nell, Rebecca Baumann, James Angus and Danie Mellor – have gone on to exhibit both nationally and internationally, to become influential educators, and to play a significant role in the development of contemporary art practice both in Australia and beyond.  

How many artists’ works, and what range of mediums used, will we be able to view at the Glasshouse Regional Gallery when Primavera at 25 opens to the public?

Primavera at 25 brings together works of 19 artists and artist groups who have participated in the annual Primavera exhibition series.

Drawn from the MCA Collection, the exhibition features established and emerging artists working across a range of disciplines from painting, sculpture, video, performance, kinetic and installation art.

For many artists, Primavera marks the start of a long relationship with the MCA. Since 1993, the MCA has acquired over 240 works by Primavera artists. These include artworks that were first exhibited in a Primavera exhibition and works made many years afterwards.

Please describe two or three of the exhibited works …

Nell’s Unlimited Radiance (2001) comprises over 20,000 sequins individually pinned onto corkboards that depicts a sunset in shades of gold, red, orange, silver and yellow. A fan gently blows across the image, causing the sequins to vibrate and shimmer, each reflective disc becoming a “miniature sun”. 

Rebecca Baumann’s Automated Colour Field (2011) consists of a grid of 100 flip-clocks, in which the artist has replaced the numbered cards with sheets of brightly coloured paper. Set to a 24-hour cycle, the cards gently click over on the minute or the hour to create an ever-changing kaleidoscope of vibrant colours.

In Native Gold (2008), Danie Mellor plays with form and language to reference ideas around authenticity and Indigenous identity in Australia. The title of the work is taken from the term used to describe pure gold, which is 98.8% gold. Based on a Victorian-era museum taxidermy display, the diorama consists three white mosaic branches, two cockatoos, a taxidermy finch and a wallaby wearing a gold breastplate inscribed “King of the Golden Age”. 

What themes does the exhibition explore as a whole?

Taking the 25th anniversary as a departure point, Primavera at 25 includes artworks that explore ideas of transformation, time and history. In the exhibition these themes are seen in artworks that appear to transform in front of our eyes, shape shifting to create new forms. Time is explored in works that record time, mark set intervals or deliberately age; whilst other artists draw upon personal and shared memories. Elsewhere, artists consider our relationship to the past by their use of classical motifs and forms; they reflect on our cultural histories or reinterpret traditional designs using contemporary materials.

Final say … 

The MCA’s Digital and Learning teams have created an amazing Primavera at 25 digital resource unit for visitors to the exhibition at the Glasshouse Regional Gallery, which includes interviews with the participating artists, in-depth information on the artworks on display, activities for school groups, and a timeline tracing the history of the exhibition series through archival materials, such as invitations, photographs (including some great images from the early ’90s), and newspaper clippings. 

I am very excited about the range of educational and public programs that will be presented at the Glasshouse Regional Gallery as part of Primavera at 25, including guided tours, teacher’s professional development programs and HSC student workshops.

Thanks Megan.

Interview: Jo Robinson.

See Primavera at 25: MCA Collection at the Glasshouse Regional Gallery until August 19.

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