Gallery A Sydney 1964-1983 Edited by John Murphy Campbelltown Arts Centre, 2009 239pp, RRP $50

In 1959, the same year that the figurative 'Antipodeans' threw down their challenge to abstraction, Gallery A opened in Melbourne; its mission, the promotion of contemporary non-objective art in Australia. From these brave beginnings the gallery expanded to Sydney in 1964, becoming a progressive force in the city’s art scene - it remained so for nearly twenty years.

When Max Hutchinson, Rua Osborne and Ann Lewis opened Gallery A Sydney in a Paddington sandstone cottage, would they have predicted that 45 years later, innovative contemporary art would be exhibited in government funded spaces, or that audiences would be accustomed to, even expect to, have their notions of what constitutes art confronted as par for the course? Today it is impossible to imagine our cultural landscape without the impact of those pioneering challenges to accepted norms and attitudes, forging the path for a new generation of artists and audiences.

Gallery A Sydney 1964-1983 accompanied a commemorative exhibition of the same name, curated by John Murphy (also editor of this book) and presented by Campbelltown Arts Centre and Newcastle Region Art Gallery. Reminiscent of a diary from a good year, the book’s presentation inspires nostalgia for the atmosphere of the time. With end pages covered by Kodak proof sheets documenting a 1969 Peter Powditch show, a detail of Peter Kennedy’s Luminal sequences installation (1971) as dust cover and pages filled with news clippings, exhibition invitations, old letters and a healthy offering of artwork reproductions and photos from the gallery archive, the immediate impression is almost intimate.

We’re led through this twenty-odd year history by some of Australia’s leading art writers, the rhythm changing seamlessly as the book’s from-all-angles approach offers art historical perspectives and personal accounts. As is fitting given Gallery A’s ethos of exchange and internationalism, much attention is given to explaining the gallery in the context of the broader Australian and international art world of the day.

Christine France chronicles both the Sydney and Melbourne Gallery As and Hutchinson’s New York galleries; in his examination of Clement Meadmore’s work and migrations A.D.S Donaldson discusses the phenomenon of emigration and immigration by Australian artists and our ‘inter-connection’ with America and Europe. Murphy’s interview with American art critic and academic Robert Storr, and Nick Waterlow’s impressions of the Australian art world on his arrival from England, offer an external perspective. Focus essays and interviews include Ralph Balson, Rosalie Gascoigne, Frank Hinder, Charles Callins, Peter Kennedy and the 1982 exhibition Master Works of the Western Desert; other key artists are woven through the text. Importantly, Murphy’s interview with Gallery A Sydney’s director throughout its existence, Ann Lewis, captures the motivation for and spirit of the gallery.

This selected history of one commercial gallery provides a personal, political and scholarly view of nearly two seminal decades of art in Australia.