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The National Is Back for 2021 with 39 Pieces of New Australian Art Across Three Sydney Galleries

First kicking off in 2017, this biennial showcase highlights established, mid-career, emerging artists and artist collectives from around the nation.
By David Allegretti
March 30, 2021
By David Allegretti
March 30, 2021

Following blockbuster exhibitions in 2017 and 2019, The National: New Australian Art is once again gracing Sydney's galleries, with the monumental contemporary Australian art exhibition spanning the Art Gallery of NSW, the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia and Carriageworks. Just what this biennial showcase highlights is right there in its title — and there's plenty of it in 2021, with the exhibition unveiling 39 newly commissioned works.

The focus: art from local emerging, mid-career and established artists, including creatives that hail from both urban and regional areas. The exhibition opened on Friday, March 26, and is on display through until June 20 at Carriageworks, until August 22 at the MCA and until September 5 at AGNSW.

Highlights include Betty Muffler and Maringka Burton's large-scale landscapes, Alick Tipoti's hefty fibreglass sculptures that resemble sea creatures and James Tylor's daguerreotype installation, which reclaims Kaurna place names, all of which are now on display at AGNSW. Or, the MCA is currently home to a five-metre-tall kinetic wind-powered sculpture by Cameron Robbins and Lauren Berkowitz's statement on the environment using plastic waste, while the Karrabing Film Collective, Vernon Ah Kee, Dalisa Pigram, Isadora Vaughan and Lorraine Connelly-Northey all have pieces on display at Carriageworks.

Alick Tipoti, 'Dhangal Madhubal' (2021) & 'Baydham' (2021). Courtesy the artist. 'Girelal' (2011) Carins Art Gallery, Queensland donated through the Australian Government's Cultural Gifts Program by Editions Tremblay 2021. Courtesy the artist and Cairns Art Gallery. Copyright the artist. Photo by AGNSW, Felicity Jenkins.

As overseen by AGNSW Curator of Asian Art Matt Cox, AGNSW Assistant Curator of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Erin Vink, MCA Chief Curator Rachel Kent and Carriageworks' independent curator Abigail Moncrieff, the multi-gallery exhibition spans everything from sculpture, textiles, painting, photography and film to installation and performance pieces, all exploring a number of interconnecting themes. Some works cast a particular lens on the environment, its destruction and the role we play in that destruction — as well as delving into the general feeling of global uncertainty which seems to permeate into every aspect of life lately. Other themes explored include relationships to Country, collaboration and intergenerational learning.

Also pivotal: works from remote communities such as Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY Lands), Yirrkala in northeast Arnhem Land, Zendah Kes (Torres Strait Islands), and Belyuen, on the northwest coast of the Northern Territory.

"Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists in this exhibition present works that exist between moments of categorisation and form, relying on and claiming Indigenous and non-Eurocentric forms of knowledge," said Vink, with AGNSW's lineup spanning pieces from 17 artists, including five Indigenous creatives.

If you're heading to MCA, you'll see works from 13 artists, with a key focus on diverse approaches to the environment and storytelling. Over at Carriageworks, questioning and responsiveness are in the spotlight, as seen through the efforts of another 13 artists and artist collectives.

This year marks the third instalment The National, which started as a six-year initiative to explore and display the latest practices, ideas and philosophies in Australian modern art. Previous iterations have proven huge hits, attracting more than 600,000 visitors across the three venues. It's career-defining stuff for many artists involved — and all three venues have committed to the continuation of The National beyond 2021.

The National 2021: New Australian Art opened on Friday, March 26 — and displays at Carriageworks until June 20, at the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia until August 22 and at the Art Gallery of NSW until September 5. For further details, head to the exhibition website.

Top images: Kate Just 'Anonymous Was a Woman' (2019–2021, installation view. Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, Sydney. Image courtesy and copyright the artist. Photo by Anna Kucera. Maree Clarke, Photograph of Jacob (2020), Photograph of Aaron (2020), installation view. Museum of Contemporary Art Australia. Image courtesy and copyright the artist. Photo by Anna Kucera.

Published on March 30, 2021 by David Allegretti


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