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NGV to restage 1968’s groundbreaking exhibition ‘The Field’

‘The Field’ was the first show at Melbourne’s National Gallery of Victoria’s when it opened its new gallery on St Kilda Road in 1968. A new generation of artists had been let loose with their colour field painting and abstract sculpture heavily which was influenced by American artists of the ‘50s and ‘60s.

The NGV is calling the 50th anniversary tribute show ‘The Field Revisited’. The plan is to recreate the original exhibition  – but rather oddly at NGV Australia at Federation Square.

Clement Meadmore, born Australia 1929, lived in United States 1963–2005, died United States 2005. ‘Up and over’, 1967, painted steel 31.0 x 40.7 x 60.1 cm, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra.

Inside, it will “reassemble” as many of the 74 original artworks as it can get access to. The show is co-curated by Tony Ellwood, the director of the NGV and Beckett Rozentals, its curator of Australian Painting, Sculpture and Decorative Arts to 1980.

In a media statement the NGV announced:

“The Field boldly launched the careers of a generation of young Australian artists, including Sydney Ball, Peter Booth, Janet Dawson and Robert Jacks, many of which were influenced by American stylistic tendencies of the time. Eighteen of the exhibiting artists were under the age of 30, with Robert Hunter the youngest at 21 years of age.

“As a number of works from the original 1968 exhibition are known to have been destroyed, and the fate of six paintings and six sculptures still remain unknown, the NGV commissioned a number of artists, including Garrey Foulkes, Col Jordan, Emanuel Raft, Trevor Vickers and Normana Wight, to recreate their original works for The Field Revisited.

Rollin Schlichtborn, Gilbert and Ellice Islands 1937, arrived Australia 1939, lived in England 1956–66, died 2011 Dempsey. 1968, synthetic polymer paint on canvas, 286.0 x 411.5 cm, private collection.

“The remaining works from the original exhibition that are absent from the 2018 exhibition will be commemorated through a specially-designed silhouette on the gallery walls, their physical space marked out throughout the exhibition space to reinforce their importance and place in the 1968 exhibition. Where possible, the fate of these missing works will be noted in the exhibition wall text, allowing visitors an invaluable insight into the recent history of these works.

“When The Field opened it caused an incredible sensation by showing daring, abstract contemporary works by emerging Australian artists. By restaging the exhibition fifty years on, we hope to re-examine its impact and significance in Australian art history and allow a whole new generation to experience it for themselves,”said Tony Ellwood.

Dale Hickey born Australia 1937. ‘Untitled’ 1967, oil on canvas, 185.0 x 371.0 cm, Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane. 

The Field Revisited is on display from April 27– August 26, 2018 at Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia at Federation Square. Entry is free.

Main image: Installation view of ‘The Field’, National Gallery of Victoria, 1968.

One response to “NGV to restage 1968’s groundbreaking exhibition ‘The Field’

  1. I was very influenced by The Field and in the 80s started calling myself a “Field painter”, Robert Rooney noted this once in a revie wof his. I did a whole show of very big wedge shaped works in ’88 partly in response.

    I never could get a copy of the catalogue myself and always looked at someone else’s. I particulary liked the small passport sized portraits of the artists and actually made a print work out of the one of the very young Robert Hunter, who I knew a little bit. Such a nice guy now gone too young. I have also made a surf painting version of Ian Burn’s Blue Reflex.

    I remember telling my Bris art dealer to start looking at this work, he replied “as Jenny Watson said that work is worth less now than it was in the 60s and 70s” BUT within a year he was dealing and representing some of the artists. Its hard to be ahead of the game.

    In the 80s this work pretty marginal as was most geometric abstract work, now monochromes, text works and such are everywhere BUT were very uncommon in the 80s. Hope to get down to see the show. Wish NGV would reprint the original catalogue though.


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