Seven Queensland women artists of distinction

Curator: David Siebert
Queensland College of Art Galley
June 17 - July 29 1987

My intention in reviewing this exhibition i s not to undertake an analysis of the individual artists and their work, but rather to examine Seven Queensland Women Artists of Distinction as a curatorial exercise.

The exhibition features work by Penny Algar, lrene Amos, Nora Anson-Vanbeek, Linda Carroll, Marian Drew, Pat Hoffie and Denise Johnson and was originally curated by David Siebert for the Women in the Arts Festival in Rockhampton in early 1 987 where "it was hoped these works might inspire and encourage both developing and more mature artists in further developing their own work".

Indeed the exhibition does present a diverse body of work from seven mature artists, each striving in a very different way to elucidate her stated concerns. Yet I found the exhibition as a whole rather unresolved as it raised important questions, which were neither acknowledged nor adequately addressed, and this I feel was ultimately a curatorial problem.

For instance, the title Seven Queensland Women Artists of Distinction, although perhaps intended to be purely descriptive, was bound to raise questions and expectations about the curatorial premise for the exhibition. In his introduction to the accompanying catalogue, curator David Siebert provides something of an answer when he states: "It was hoped in the original provincial context and certainly in the present one, that this work in some way challenges the viewer's notions of art and ideas. Art is not doing its job if it merely reinforces the status quo, giving exactly what is expected. Art is at its best and most meaningful when it is provocative and stimulating".

While this exhibition may or may not have achieved this aim in Rockhampton, it seems to me that to have effectively "upset the status-quo · or to have "challenged notions of art and ideas· in an audience such as that drawn to an art college gallery, a far more rigorous and topical approach to this particular area would have been more appropriate.

The notion of a "female", "feminine" or "women's" art or expression is a vexed one that has been investigated at length in recent decades and one which has seen radical shifts in emphasis too numerous and complex to examine here. However in bringing together the work of Seven Queensland Women Artists of Distinction, the curator has entered the arena and having done so has, I feel some onus to take account of preceding and current debate and to adopt a relevant curatorial premise.

For although the artists in the exhibition (with the exception of Pat Hoffie) do not appear to attempt any direct engagement with current theory pertinent to their practice as women, there is much that could have been drawn from or commented upon in their work. At least some explanation and/or clarification of what the curator considered "distinctive" about these artists, either individually or as a group, would have been a helpful start. Was it, for instance, the fact that they are women or was it some particular aspect of their work, which evoked the description?

Ultimately these are pertinent questions: For in the manner in which it has been presented this exhibition does little to "provoke" or "stimulate", and essentially this is not because the work itself lacks purpose or presence but rather is due to the lack of an adequate critical/curatorial framework in which to situate it.

If this criticism is interpreted as an attempt to impose upon the exhibition and upon the curator, concerns to which they did not aspire (which I don't believe it is, given the curator's statement) then it is, I believe, for sound reasons. For if any questioning of art and ideas, or challenge to the status-quo is to be made, it must, I feel, take a far more critical guise than that adopted for this exhibition. A bland offering of "here are some distinctive women artists" presents no such challenge and more importantly does little to investigate the practice and position of women as artists.