As the weather gets wetter, there’s no better time to explore contemporary art around the city (especially, as you are aided by Art Month throughout March). But did you know that the City of Sydney has a contemporary art collection of its own? Part of our Civic Collection, this selection of visual art is an irreplaceable resource for understanding the cultural heritage of Sydney: the people, places and events that make up our city.
The Civic Collection has some important distinctions from the collections found at cultural institutions like the Art Gallery of New South Wales or The Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences. It specifically seeks to capture the everyday life of Sydney and support the work of local artists. Another part of its role is to contribute to the preservation of buildings like Sydney Town Hall, Customs House and city libraries. It continues to grow each year, with acquisitions guided by a curatorial policy.
While the Civic Collection includes fascinating historical items with a story to tell (such as a lock of hair from the head of Napoleon), in the spirit of Art Month, we have selected 3 interesting works to get you acquainted:
1. Marriage Equality (2016) and Marriage Equality Now (2016) by Jeffrey Samuels
Jeffrey Samuels is a Ngemba painter, illustrator, designer, mixed media artist and printmaker, originally hailing from Bourke in northwest NSW.
His work has been featured on the costumes of dancers in the First Nations Mardi Gras Float in 2016. His art is also represented in the collections of the National Gallery of Australia, the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Flinders University, the Australian Museum and the National Museum of Australia.
Over the years, Jeffrey has donated paintings to charities, facilitated mural projects at schools, TAFEs, Universities and within Australian gaols, taught art and conducted workshops.
Jeffrey’s statements about equal marriage equality are important to us at the City of Sydney. Sydney Town Hall has long been the scene for gay rights protests and demonstrations. We were the first local government to raise the Rainbow Flag over Sydney Town Hall, inspiring other councils to do the same. Most importantly, we have strong policies on social justice, equality and inclusion.
2. The Armchair Traveller (two-seater) (2013) by Deb Mansfield
Deb Mansfield is a Sydney-based artist and co-director of TOP FLOOR at WELLINGTON (a creative-run space in the Chippendale Creative Precinct). Mansfield’s research looks at liminal geographies and spaces of in-between.
The photo-tapestries used in The Armchair Traveller lounge are from photos taken at low tide in the Tamar Wetlands in Launceston, Tasmania. The blue hue in the images hasn’t been enhanced – the wetlands have an incredible geography with huge tidal shifts and landscape variations.
In this work, the artist addresses the destruction of important ecological habitats in coastal wetlands along the east coast of Australia, including those behind the beaches in Sydney. The choice of the Louis XV reproduction chair to frame this wetland imagery is based on the 19th century parlour room style of ‘bringing the outside in’.
Mansfield’s work speaks directly to our concern with environmental degradation.
3. Martin Sharp’s Eternity, Wirian, Bellevue Hill (2016) by Robyn Stacey
Robyn Stacey is one of Australia’s most acclaimed photographers. Her work asks the viewer to journey into the private lives of others by projecting buildings, landscapes, streets, airports and other public spaces into interiors, using the technique of ‘camera obscura’ to play with light and perception.
In this photo, Stacey reflects on the iconic Sydney signature ‘Eternity’, a common theme in major Australian pop artist Martin Sharp’s work. ‘Eternity’ is an enduring message of Sydney man Arthur Stace, who inscribed the word in the early hours of the morning more than half a million times between 1932 and 1966. This secret street artist’s identity was not exposed until 1956. ‘Eternity’ was the name chosen for the Darlinghurst Playhouse in the former Burton Street Tabernacle, recently restored by the City.