The Art of the Matter
Bendigo Art Gallery is one of Australia’s oldest art galleries, with a bright future in sight.
TrueBlue Magazine - Aug/Sept 2019
Words: Sarah Hinder
In Central Victoria, Bendigo Art Gallery excellently toes the line between classic and contemporary. We spoke with the gallery’s newly appointed Director, Jessica Bridgfoot, to explore its history and a few upcoming exhibitions.
Founded by early colonial settlers more than 130 years ago, with paintings brought over from the UK and Europe, Bendigo’s is one of the oldest art galleries in Australia.
“At that time, there was a certain nostalgia for the ‘motherland’, and a desire to bring European and British sensibilities to the new colony,” says Jessica. “The gallery was founded with the motto: ‘Art for the people’. And that’s still inscribed upon our building today.”
Today the city of Bendigo has certainly become an established destination for arts and culture, especially within the fashion and textiles space. “We’ve become synonymous now with international fashion and design and celebrity-based exhibitions,” Jessica explains. “The area has become our niche, in a way.“
The ‘Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion’ exhibition, on at Bendigo Art Gallery from August 17 to November 10, is a textile and design exhibition tracing fashion designer Christóbal Balenciaga from his early roots in Spain during the ‘40s and ‘50s to his famous Parisian salon, in which he hosted and designed for several high-profile clients including Ava Gardner and Gloria Guinness.
“He was very much at the peak of his game,“ explains Jessica. “He was a master couturier, recognised by Dior and Givenchy. He’s lesser known, but was in fact one of the most influential designers of the 20th century. He revolutionised the female silhouette, invented the sack dress, peplum and baby doll dress – variations of which are now part of our contemporary fashion vernacular.“
On loan from the NGV, exhibition ‘Desert Lines: Batik from Central Australia’, this August 17 to November 17, will present more than 60 works of Indigenous batik from five Central Australian Desert communities.
“This is something that we’ve always wanted to bring here to Central Victoria, so we’re showing an expanded exhibition and bringing in some painting from the Central Desert as well,” says Jessica.
The show highlights the significance of batik to Indigenous women of the Central Desert region, and illustrates the link between batik and painting. Traditionally, during the ‘70s and ‘80s, Indigenous men painted, while women worked in batik. So women only started painting in the late ‘80s, and before then it was classified as ‘men’s work’.
“Consequently, when batik originated during the ‘70s in the Central Desert, the works were viewed as craft rather than fine art. It simply wasn’t on the art market. What this meant was the artists had a right of freedom to really develop the technique, colour and stories, unconfined by any commercial market.”
Alongside the exhibition, visitors will have the opportunity to participate in hands-on educational programs such as a batik dyeing workshops.
Bendigo Art Gallery actively collects and showcases regionally based artists, with its annual ‘Going Solo’ exhibition showcasing a local emerging artist.
“This year we’ve dedicated our exhibition to a local First Nations artist, which we will continue to do every second year,” says Jessica. “This year’s exhibition, ‘What’s on your mind’, will feature early career artist Josh Muir.”
Opening in November, it will include a learning space and an interactive digital space. “There will be a type of gaming space as an extension of Josh’s artwork. He works in neon with a street art aesthetic, and is interested in youth culture and the idea of what it means to be a young Indigenous person in a contemporary world.”
As new director at the gallery, the digital realm is something which Jessica is interested in exploring further in the future. “It’s an area that I’m interested in pushing,” she says. “We’re looking at implementing a permanent digital space.
“We’re also interested in our future audiences. Younger people are becoming very interactive with artistic spaces. So, we’re experimenting in that space. It’s brand new territory for us.”
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