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Patricia Piccinini's Otherworldy 'Skywhale' Is Coming Back — with a New Floating Companion

They'll both fly above the National Gallery of Australia in 2020, before touring the country.
By Sarah Ward
November 20, 2019
By Sarah Ward
November 20, 2019

Thirty-four-metres long, more than twice as big as a regular hot air balloon and ripped straight from Patricia Piccinini's inimitable mind, Skywhale might just be one of Australia's most recognisable recent pieces of art. It's a sight to see, and the largest-scale example of the artist's fascination with the thin line that separates nature and technology — and it's about to meet its match.

In 2020, the National Gallery of Australia will unveil Piccinini's new Skywhalepapa, which is designed to form a family with Skywhale. They'll both float through the Canberra skies from March, with the second bulbous sculpture commissioned as part of the gallery's Balnaves Contemporary Series. In total, the pair will take flight from a site near the NGA eight times during the nearly three-month Skywhales: Every Heart Sings exhibition, with the exact launch dates yet to be revealed.

Skywhalepapa, 2019/20 (artist's sketch), Patricia Piccinini. Courtesy of the artist.

Just how big Skywhalepapa will be is also yet to be announced, but given the impressive size of its companion, expect it to be hefty. If you can't make it to Canberra to see the growing Skywhale clan, they will also tour the country for an NGA touring exhibition, with locations and dates to be confirmed at a later date.

While both Skywhalepapa and the Skywhales: Every Heart Sings exhibition will be big Canberra drawcards for the NGA next year, that's not all that the gallery has in store. In fact, it'll also welcome another incredibly famous artwork before the year is out: Vincent van Gogh's Sunflowers. The 231-year-old piece will arrive in November 2020, displaying during the four-month-long Botticelli to Van Gogh: Masterpieces from the National Gallery, London exhibition. In total, more than 60 works from European masters will line the NGA's walls, including Rembrandt's Self-portrait at the age of 34 from 1640 and Johannes Vermeer's A young woman seated at a virginal from 1670 — and most of them have never before travelled to Australia.

Sunflowers, 1888, Vincent van Gogh. National Gallery London; Bought, Courtauld Fund, 1924.

Art lovers can also look forward to Know My Name: Australian Women Artists 1900 to Now, which'll shine a spotlight on the nation's female creatives across more than 150 works; Belonging: Stories of Australian Art, a major collection of 19th-century Aussie pieces; a six-month focus on Chinese artist and activist Xu Zhen; and The Body Electric, a showcase of works by female-identifying creatives that are all about sex, pleasure and desire. Or, you can ponder the evolution of contemporary art with The Shock of the New and see a large-scale installation by the Tjanpi Desert Weavers.

Skywhales: Every Heart Sings runs from March 7–May 30, 2020 at the National Gallery of Australia, Parkes Place East, Parkes, ACT. For further information about the NGA's 2020 lineup, visit the gallery's website.

Top image: Skywhale, 2013, Patricia Piccinini. National Gallery of Australia, Canberra. Gift of anonymous donor 2019, Australian Government's Cultural Gifts Program.

Published on November 20, 2019 by Sarah Ward
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