Women modernists stand in for postponed APY lands show

Liz Hobday |

The early modernist art of Grace Cossington Smith features in Know My Name: Making it Modern.
The early modernist art of Grace Cossington Smith features in Know My Name: Making it Modern.

A display by women modernists at the National Gallery of Australia will fill a program gap left by a major Aboriginal art exhibition, which has been postponed as interference allegations are investigated.

Know My Name: Making it Modern will open August 5, with works on display from the likes of Margaret Preston, Grace Cossington Smith, Clarice Beckett and Olive Cotton.

Curators drew from the national collection to put the exhibition together quickly and show the impact of early Australian modernists, lead curator Deborah Hart told AAP.

“We have a depth and there is a richness so that we can tell these stories in expanded form, rather than just two or three works,” she said.

Making it Modern also features works by Ethel Spowers and Eveline Syme, recently the subject of NGA’s Spowers and Syme travelling exhibition, which went to Dubbo, Geelong, Sydney and Brisbane and was shown at the Canberra Museum and Gallery.

As most of their art consists of delicate works on paper, expert conservators have checked it over to ensure it can withstand being on display for three more months.

“The work won’t be able to be shown for quite some time after this because of its fragility,” Dr Hart said.

But Making it Modern is not simply an expanded Spowers and Syme, she said – there will be a whole room of works by Preston, and another by pioneering photographer Cotton.

A third space will be filled with art by Cossington Smith spanning four decades, including several of her sketchbooks showing how her work developed.

The new winter exhibition plugs a hole left by Ngura Pulka: Epic Country, which had been scheduled to run from June 3 until October 8 featuring artworks from the APY (Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara) Lands.

In April, The Australian newspaper published claims non-Indigenous workers from APY Art Centre Collective had painted on works by Aboriginal artists.

The collective has described those allegations as false and defamatory.

Earlier in June, the gallery postponed the Ngura Pulka show indefinitely, saying it needed more time to complete an investigation.

Know My Name: Making it Modern will run at the National Gallery in Canberra until October 8.