Cover image of the review
Installation view of Braving Time, NAS Galleries. Photo: Peter Morgan

Braving Time: Contemporary Art in Queer Australia

18 Mar 2023
National Art School Gallery 3 Feb - 18 Mar 2023

Braving Time: Contemporary Art in Queer Australia is, as curator Richard Perram asserts, a show “about contemporary art in queer Australia” and not “an exhibition of queer art in contemporary Australia.” As I attempt to unpick the subtle sematic differences between these two frameworks, I wonder if they aren’t really one in the same. Is the curatorial objective of foregrounding queer subjectivity and worlds in Australia and Australian art not also an exercise in queering contemporary art and Australia? I’ve barely made it past the introductory wall text and my mind is already whirring with unanswered questions.

The works in Braving Time centre on one unifying feature: all artists “identify as part of the Australian LGBTQIA+ community.” While curatorial frameworks focussed on identity are neither new nor departing anytime soon—think of the NGV’s Queer (2022), the NGA’s Know My Name (2020–22), and ACCA’s Unfinished Business (2017–2018)—such approaches raise a number of questions around criticality, nuance, and cultural relevance. Shows that thematise or privilege identity may seem like the most egalitarian answer to the enduring lack of diverse representation in our public art institutions—see Rex Butler’s review of Who Are You: Australian Portraiture, 2022. But their resulting exhibitions often lack the conceptual scaffolding required to adequately platform the artworks on show. Identities are broad, slippery, and idiosyncratic. These idiosyncrasies demand conceptual structures with enough specificity to guide the audience’s critical engagement with the artworks on display (examples of recent shows that have offered such a rigorous and generative structure are Fulgora (2023) and Screwball (2022), both curated by EO Gill, and Friendship as a Way of Life (2020), curated by José Da Silva and Kelly Doley). Without strong conceptual structures, the discursive potential that can exist between distinct works of art and their relationship to the stakes of queer living and histories are lost.

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