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Eight Exceptional Brisbane Art Exhibitions to Step Into This Spring

See everything from glowing robots to stellar women artists to contenders for Brisbane's first portrait prize.
By Concrete Playground
September 30, 2019

Eight Exceptional Brisbane Art Exhibitions to Step Into This Spring

See everything from glowing robots to stellar women artists to contenders for Brisbane's first portrait prize.
By Concrete Playground
September 30, 2019


See everything from glowing robots to stellar women artists to contenders for Brisbane's first portrait prize.

The arrival of spring means you'll have more motivation to leave the house more — even if it's just to get into a gallery. Luckily, the array of exhibitions currently on display in Brisbane are anything but static. You'll be able to get your steps up as you check out street art, peer at portraits and explore the city's music history. Just remember to take a breather between each one as you gallery hop around the city.

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    A fresh batch of street art has popped up across Brisbane, brightening up the city’s laneways and public spaces. And it’s not any old outdoor exhibition, with Women’s Work highlighting large-scale pieces by 12 female artists.

    On display until Sunday, December 1, this is a huge showcase in several ways. Each of the towering artworks earns that description, as does the the exhibition’s sprawling inner-city footprint — spreading over Eagle, Edison, Irish, Hutton and Fish Lanes, as well as along Edward Street, through the King George Square Car Park and on the William Jolly Bridge. And, there’s also the fact that it’s Brisbane’s largest display of women’s street art.

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    From the city’s big stars to its everyday faces, everyone earns at place at the Brisbane Portrait Prize. A new initiative kicking off in 2019, it showcases the folks that make this town of ours great — and the talented Brisbane artists who’ve committed their likeness to canvas.

    Indeed, subject-wise, the 100 inaugural finalists read like a who’s who of Brissie. Fashion icons like Pamela Easton sit alongside comedians such as Matt Okine — plus footballers Kevin Walters and Ally Anderson, and musicians such as David McCormack,  Warren Ellis and Tyrone Noonan. Agro pops up, as does Toowong resident Ziggy. The list goes on, spanning names you’ll recognise and people you won’t.

    Image: Amy Sheppard – Ascension by Beth Mitchell. Photographic print on metallic pearl paper and acrylic. 100cm x 150cm.

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    Whether a robot can pass for human has been the subject of many a science-fiction film, from Blade Runner to Ex Machina. Whether a robot can still elicit sympathetic feelings if it doesn’t actually look anything like a human — well, that’s a different question entirely. It’s one that plenty of movies have covered as well, if you’re instantly thinking about cute Star Wars droids like R2-D2 and BB-8. But finding CGI pieces of metal adorable and interacting with real machinery are two completely different experiences.

    At QUT Art Museum’s latest installation, you can witness the experiment in action. The result of Katrin Hochschuh and Adam Donovan’s European research project, Empathy Swarm ponders how people and robots co-exist — and, specifically, if non-anthropomorphic robots can connect with humans, and demonstrate compassionate responses in response to their presence. A group of 50 droids will try to do just that, so you might just leave with 50 new robotic friends.

    Image: QUT Art Museum

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    One of the country’s major artistic figures until her passing in 2011, Margaret Olley is an Australian greatly worth celebrating. Educated in Brisbane, and spending a significant part of her life here afterwards, she’s also somewhat of a local icon. But Olley’s impact extends beyond the vivid canvases that she’s best known for. Over her nearly 90-year existence, she was also a mentor to others, a muse to many, and a devoted collector and donor of art herself.

    While Margaret Olley: A Generous Life showcases Olley’s work, it also highlights her broad influence. Here, across more than 100 paintings and drawings, visitors to the Gallery of Modern Art can see her own famous pieces, pictures of her by other artists, and even pieces that she bought and gave to public institutions. On display until Sunday, October 13, the exhibition marks her life and legacy — and, to emphasise the latter, runs alongside GOMA’s simultaneous Quilty exhibition (which focuses on her good friend Ben Quilty) from Saturday, June 29.

    Image: Margaret Olley: A Generous Life. Exhibition no. 2019.04. Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art. Start date 15.06.2019. End date 13.10.2019. GOMA Gallery 1.1 installation view.

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    Brisbane’s thriving music scene is taking over an unexpected venue, and it’s turning the volume up loud. Until Sunday, April 19, 2020, the Museum of Brisbane is playing host to High Rotation. The in-depth exhibition showcases the city’s songs, singers, stars and all-round sonic wonders from the past 30 years; celebrates the wide range of folks helping make Brissie’s music magic happen; and explores the local industry’s national and international impact.

    Across a range of film clips and photos, instruments and souvenirs, plus other bits and pieces, more than 80 artists are in the spotlight. Whether you like pop, rock or indie, adore today’s up-and-comers or obsess over big names that have shaped the last three decades, you’ll find someone to tap your toes to. That includes Regurgitator, Custard, Powderfinger, Savage Garden, Kev Carmody, The Veronicas, Sheppard, George, Kate Miller-Heidke and Keith Urban, as well as The Grates, Violent Soho, WAAX and Thelma Plum. The lineup goes on, and it’d make quite a playlist — or festival bill.

    Image: Lachlan Douglas.

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    From Seinfeld to Friends to Kevin Smith’s Mallrats, 90s pop culture was jam-packed with characters staring at pictures and trying to spot optical illusions. It was a time of Magic Eye books, after all — but peering at pieces of art, soaking in colours and arrangements, and endeavouring to see more than the obvious wasn’t invented then. And, it has never gone out of fashion.

    In fact, doing just that is on the agenda at Queensland Art Gallery’s new Geometries exhibition, which is on display until Sunday, February 2, 2020. The free showcase rounds up a heap of works that look simple, but prove otherwise the more that you look at them. There’s no such thing as a plain old abstract painting of lines and shapes here.

    Image: Wilma Tabacco. Australia b.1953. Hellza poppin. 2004. Oil on linen / 183 x 244cm. Gift of William Nuttall and Annette Reeves through the Queensland Art Gallery Foundation 2008. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program. Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art.

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    Alongside its collection of Margaret Olley’s works, Brisbane’s Gallery of Modern Art is giving another exceptional Australian artist some attention until Sunday, October 13: Ben Quilty. Across a free exhibition simply entitled Quilty, more than 70 pieces will showcase his work from the early 2000s onwards — including his intimate looks at his own reflection, his time spent as an official war artist in Afghanistan, and his response to other topical events, including the last American election.

    Quilty’s expressive portraits, both of himself and of others — such as executed Bali 9 drug smuggler Myuran Sukumaran — are quite a striking sight. His Rorschach paintings are too, unsurprisingly. And, they’re designed not just to catch the eye, but to explore the dark undercurrent of violence and displacement that lurks in the Australian psyche.

    Image: Ben Quilty. Australia, born 1973. Rorschach after von Guérard. 2009. Oil and synthetic polymer paint on linen (12 panels) / 230.0 x 804.0 cm (overall). Acquired 2009, TarraWarra Museum of Art. Courtesy the artist. Photograph: Jeremy Dillon.

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    Brisbane’s artistic history is filled with talented and trailblazing women, from Daphne Mayo and Vida Lahey in 1920s, to Margaret Olley to Tracey Moffat, to the likes of Davida Allen, Naomi Blacklock and Rachael Haynes, too. The list keeps going — and so does the impressive roster of works by pioneering ladies that’ll be on display during the Museum of Brisbane’s new exhibition on the subject.

    Running from Friday, September 13 through until Sunday, March 15, New Woman celebrates the exceptional efforts of Brisbane’s female artists over the past 100 years. More than 110 works will be on display from over 80 creatives, spanning painting, photography, sculpture, performance and installation. If it sounds huge, that’s because a retrospective of pieces by the city’s arty women hasn’t ever been staged before on this scale.

    Image: Caroline Barker, Untitled (life class model), c1925, oil on canvas, gift of the artist, 1982, City of Brisbane Collection, Museum of Brisbane. Photo Carl Warner.


Image: Empathy Swarm.

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