Fleurieu Art Prize Spreads Wings and Deepens Roots

The 2016 Fleurieu Art Prize delivers an exuberant viewing experience, fuelled by large, confident and at times challenging works, supported by others more intimate in scale and sentiment.

The great landscape art tradition that stretched from European art of the 14th to the early 20th century looked unassailable. That is until conceptual, video and performance art and other upstarts suddenly made it look sooo 19th century. Sure, the big hitters like Turner, Constable, Monet and, in Australian terms, Streeton and Heysen get trotted out every now and then to remind us of the glory days. But we all know that conventional landscape art involving a broadly retinal approach to rendering landscape has lost its pre-eminence. So what’s with this thing called the Fleurieu Art Prize – billed as the world’s richest? Prior occupancy for starters. It was launched in 1998 with its roots (and exhibition venues) firmly in the Fleurieu Peninsula and the region’s wine industry in particular. And it worked. The relationship between landscape art and the region was tight. Nothing needed to be explained. Cut to 2016.

Fleurieu-Art-Prize-Brook-Andrew-Possessed-111-Adelaide-Review Brook Andrew, Possessed 111 (2015)

With the Fleurieu Art Prize relaunched, in the city, it was clearly going to be a new beast. The complementary Fleurieu Food & Art Prize has maintained the regional connection as a multi-site wineries affair. The big change – no holds media for the big prize. At a stroke, the whole field opened up. With an impressive line-up of nationally recognised artists, the project clearly enjoys the confidence of the wider art community. The dash for the cash principle ($65,000) has always been a motivator but, clearly, an opportunity to present work in a prestigious art museum ticked all the right boxes. The end result is that the 2016 Fleurieu Art Prize delivers an exuberant viewing experience, fuelled by large, confident and at times challenging works, supported by others more intimate in scale and sentiment.

Fleurieu-Art-Prize-adelaide-review-tim-silverInstallation view 2016 Fleurieu Art Prize

The winning work, Tony Albert’s The Hand You’re Dealt, epitomises the Fleurieu’s fresh charter in interpreting a sense of place. Characteristic of the artist’s practice, insignias of Australian racist stereotyping in the form of Aboriginal kitsch playing cards of a notional mid 20th century era have been sliced, diced and recomposed into a cultural diorama crammed with contradictions and hybridities that signpost persistent prejudices.

Fleurieu-Art-Prize-adelaide-review-tony-albertTony Albert, The Hand You’re Dealt, 2015, vintage Aboriginal playing cards, dimensions variable. Winner of the 2016 Fleurieu Art Prize.

The fact that the work is in an extended ‘landscape’ format suggests that the artist was thinking about the broad Fleurieu thematic and, indeed, the entry requirement that works should engage with the theme of landscape. Albert is not alone. Most finalists have taken a tangential approach to the theme of landscape while focusing on the task of creating engaging work of arts. Alex Seton’s The Best of All Possible Worlds, for example, uses the distancing factor of sculpture to deal with landscape as a figment of the mind. It is a risky mash up of high/low culture gestures and materials which pins landscape’s uneasy status to the floor.

Fleurieu-Art-Prize-adelaide-review-ed-douglasInstallation view 2016 Fleurieu Art Prize, featuring works by Philip Wolfhagen, Megan Walch, Tony Lloyd, Vippo Srivilasa, Brook Andrew, Ed Douglas and Lionel Bawden

In another sculptural work, Tim Silver’s Untitled (monuments), smashed up tree stumps read as anti-monuments to the chop-it-down colonial legacy. Interestingly, Ed Douglas is represented with a series of photographs of fragments of timber (Proposal for an altarpiece: Climbing Mt Analogue 1/6) which use a similar motif to Silver’s to reveal a monumental and even a fierce beauty. So, selective looking may be one strategy to get something more than casual entertainment from looking.

Trees do emerge from a wide diversity of work as key devices that carry both compositions and metaphoric messages. Ian North’s quietly compelling photographic image (Harbinger) of almost ‘nothingness’, some scrubby trees, a yawning fence and some slyly collaborative tyre tracks demonstrates how this artist-tree collaboration can be a subtle affair. William Mackinnon’s ebullient, trunk-bisected Strange Country – all organ stops out.

Fleurieu-Art-Prize-adelaide-review-ian-northInstallation view 2016 Fleurieu Art Prize, featuring works by Ian North and Clare Belfrage

Despite the project’s regional tag is there actually any work in the Samstag Art Prize hang specific to the Fleurieu? Perhaps some elements of Geoff Wilson’s composite landscape Pallets Contemplating Blue Hills Like Heysen Once Painted. Does this absence matter? Yes and no. The thematic of landscape now accommodates variations on landscape as metaphor. As such, future Fleurieus could accommodate any kind of imagery or propositions provided the artist is prepared, hand on heart, to say it is about place or such things as ‘the cultural landscape’ and so on.

Imants-Tillers-World-without-end-adelaide-reviewImants Tillers, World without end (2014)

Might some antipodean Michael Craig-Martin one day present with a glass of water as West View, Onkaparinga Gorge? Don’t smirk. Art judges have been known to court controversy. Art savvy audiences won’t even notice the bumps. General audiences will need to keep seat-belts fastened. Where that leaves the ‘Fleurieu’ bit of the equation is something to be addressed. The linked Food and Wine Art Prize project, currently showing in winery venues around McLaren Vale, is doing the heavy lifting here. One option could be to include the winner of the Food and Wine Prize in the Fleurieu Art Prize hang. As any vigneron will tell you, root stock and terroir matters. 2016 Fleurieu Art Prize Anne & Gordon Samstag Museum of Art Until July 29 unisa.edu.au/samstagmuseum Photos: Sam Noonan, courtesy of Anne & Gordon Samstag Museum of Art, University of South Australia

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