Cover image of the review

O’Keeffe, Preston, Cossington-Smith: Making Modernism

11 Feb 2017
Heide Museum of Modern Art 12 Mar - 19 Feb 2017

Two things are glaringly obvious in just the title of Heide’s Summer exhibition O’Keeffe, Preston, Cossington Smith: Making Modernism. The first, of course, is the apparent refusal of the hegemonic history of modernism: that the pivotal period in art history was shaped by a bunch of dudes. The second is that the curators have attempted to render redundant the cultural cringe of the so-called provincialism that Australian art has long been said to suffer from. Georgia O’Keeffe—the “mother” of American modernism—placed on equal playing ground as two not-as-internationally-recognised Australian artists, Margaret Preston and Grace Cossington Smith.

In the context of Heide—a place made famous by its stable of male artists: Vassilieff, Tucker, Nolan, Perceval, Boyd—it is salutary to see an emphasis upon a female modernism. Indeed, some of Heide’s most successful female focuses have been contemporary—Louise Bourgeois in 2012, Fiona Hall in 2013, Esther Stewart in 2016. With the historical narratives of Blackman, Nolan and Tucker continuing to be the biggest draw cards for the institution (while female Heide original Joy Hester tends to be ignored), it is not surprising that the museum continues to rely upon this white patriarchal model to propel it into the 21st century—cue current exhibitions of Nolan’s slates and a Charles Blackman survey, Making History (an even greater claim than Making Modernism).

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