Temperature 2 : New Queensland Art Museum of Brisbane 6 February – 8 June 2009 Curator: Frank McBride
'Temperature 2: New Queensland Art' attempts to showcase contemporary art in Queensland within the landmark of Brisbane's 150th birthday as a municipality. Unlike the first Temperature exhibition, Temperature 2 is concerned mainly with painting, photography and two-dimensional mixed media pieces spanning the past three years.
Initially, the striking thing about the exhibition is the sparseness of the space. The decision to choose only wall pieces means the gallery looks quite bare compared to the previous 'Temperature' show (which focused more on sculpture). It utilised the whole gallery space to ensure viewers were constantly engaged, moving around, interacting with the art. Consequently it created excitement and dialogue, not just with singular artworks but with the mood of Queensland art as a creative, contemplative and modern set of practices. One got the sense that things were 'happening’ here.
I wouldn’t argue this feeling was wholly translated to 'Temperature 2'. This was certainly not due to a lack of talented artists or impressive works. The artists chosen were worthy of representing their state and were obviously carefully considered choices. Worth a particular mention are the paintings of Sally Gabori. She brings an original, rigorous and vibrant sensibility to the canvas which is clearly lodged in this specific place and time of artmaking. The sureness of her technique and the inventiveness of her compositions makes her, as the catalogue observes: ‘the least traditional artist in this exhibition’ and an absolute personification of what an exhibition like this should strive for.
Likewise, the works of Peter Alwast, Karl De Waal and Paul Adair engage with the idea of place and locality in succinct, exciting and contemporary ways. So, to dissect the problem, if we go by the definition of its curator Frank McBride and interpret 'Temperature' to mean "Taking the temperature... to better understand the condition of something" then what does this exhibition say about the conditions of artmaking in Queensland?
It should be noted that curatorially this exhibition was intended to have no theme. This could be the issue, as I felt the lack of declaration of the criteria that the curator meant when he referred to ‘New Queensland Art’. Are we looking at an exhibition of art by new Queensland artists or an exhibition of new works by established ones? And why does new art need to be divided by genre (which seems to be the biggest problem of 'Temperature 2') as surely this distinction is unnecessary and possibly even counterproductive to capturing the diversity of Queensland art practice? Given the calibre of the artists who exhibited, perhaps responding more directly to Brisbane’s 150th birthday would have made the exhibition a bit more cohesive and taken advantage of a great conceptual opportunity?
If there was one item in the show that could create a clearer direction for future 'Temperature' exhibitions, it was the contribution from the MSSR (Moreton Street Spare Room) artist’s initiative. This video nails McBride’s goal of - ‘survey(ing) the activity in Queensland’s studios and galleries without any preconceptions’. The MSSR presentation not only shed light in an accessible and engaging way on how the artists make their works, but documented the artists rooted in their local context, in their houses, their studios, the park down the road. The fresh, intelligent and relevant insights contributed by this project should certainly be one of the driving forces, ideologically and physically, behind any future 'Temperature' exhibitions.
'Temperature 2: New Queensland Art' was an artistically impressive exhibition, however it needed more diversity of content or a set of more coherent objectives in order to live up to its predecessor and thoroughly showcase Queensland. Nevertheless with the choice of some standout artists and the involvement with the MSSR collective, promising ideas have been posed for any subsequent exhibitions of Queensland art, and it will be interesting to see whether future showcase exhibitions succeed in doing the state rightful justice.