SEAN PEOPLES and VERONICA KENT (The Telepathy Project), 20 Days of Dream Telepathy, 2013, oil on board, chairs, fabric and paint, dimensions variable. Photo by Michael Young for ArtAsiaPacific.

Young Australian Artists

Primavera 2014

Museum of Contemporary Art

“Primavera” is an annual exhibition for Australian artists under the age of 35, held at Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) since 1992. It was established by Dr. Edward and Cynthia Jackson and their family, in memory of their daughter Belinda who died at the tragically young age of 29. Its 2014 edition features work by 13 artists, and is curated by Mikala Dwyer, who had previously shown in the inaugural Primavera exhibition. Dwyer is an established Australian artist, who has a well-known preoccupation with the paranormal, occult, rituals and challenging taboos—along with something she identifies as “alchemical transformation”—which has somewhat formed the conceptual underpinning to the current Primavera.

The works on display range from time-based video pieces to installations to two-dimensional wall pieces—which, on initial encounter, seem little more than loosely associated bits and pieces (until one reads the often-dense one sheets available in the exhibition rooms).

This is nowhere more evident than in Nick Dorey’s monumental installation The Perfect Heart of Robert Round (2014), which, in the artist’s own rather pretentious words, “contains constellations of constellations, webs and networks of ciphered archetypal forms, which dance and jostle with each other and the overarching structure.” This is art-speak at its most ostentatious level. The components of this work are too many to list, but the overall outcome, if one can dismiss the clumsy artist statement, engages viewers on a superficial level. It is like a film set onto which the artist has packed all manner of objects.

NICK DOREY, The Perfect Heart of Robert Round, 2014, mixed media, dimensions variable. Photo by Michael Young for ArtAsiaPacific.

Another large installation, entitled 20 Days of Dream Telepathy (2013), and part of Sean Peoples and Veronica Kent’s “The Telepathy Project”, is the end result of a residency in Barcelona, where the two artists tested Democritus’ theory that objects can transmit emanations that influence one’s dreams. The initial performative part of the piece involved the artists each choosing a secret object and placing it under the other’s pillows before going to sleep, for 20 days. On the following mornings, they recounted the dreams that they each saw to one another. Then they checked to see if their respective objects had succeeded in influencing their dreams. As a finale to the project, Peoples and Kent turned their favorite dreams into collaborative oil paintings, which are exhibited in “Primavera 2014.” Sadly, the display of paintings fail to tell us if the artists’ sleep experiments were successful, and, instead, present a bewildering mélange of chairs draped with various patterned material (atop which the canvasses are placed).

The standout work by far in this disparate exhibition is a triptych by Paul Yore. His brightly colored works, with appliqué patches, sparkling sequins and opalescent pearly buttons, mask a biting and satirical commentary of the world in which the 26-year-old artist finds himself, and one cannot help but be dazzled by them. The embroideries are politically and sexually charged, and Yore pulls no punches in his depiction of the hypocrisy of society that he perceives, and he is a finer artist for that.

Yore is the poster boy of Australian radical art at the moment—not that it is a position he has overtly courted. Societal mores have tended to overtake him; recently he was charged of producing and possessing child pornography, after several of his works that superimposed random children’s faces onto sexually explicit imagery were seized from a Melbourne gallery last year. Yore was cleared of all charges in late September. As if this wasn’t enough, he also had another work, commissioned by last year’s inaugural Sydney Contemporary, deemed too explicit to be hung and taken out from the art fair.

Paul Yore, Detail of Work in Progress, 2014, felt appliqué , wool needlepoint, sequins, beads, buttons and found objects, dimensions variable. Photo by Michael Young for ArtAsiaPacific.

Regarding the “Primavera” exhibition, Dwyer says it is “verdant, abundant, lively, a bit messy and unruly . . . [The works] will resonate through their chosen proximity to, and entanglement with, each other.” Unfortunately, this just doesn’t happen. One might also add that “Primavera” is a bit all over the place, and Dwyer’s quote seems more like an excuse for an exhibition that is so jam-packed that it is hard to decipher what is going on.

However, one should perhaps have sympathy for Dwyer’s predicament with the exhibition’s overcrowded environment. Over the years the MCA has struggled to transform itself from a not-too-modern 1950s office block into a not-particularly-successful series of interlinked exhibition spaces. Two years ago a new wing was attached to the main building, which resulted in very little additional exhibition space. Trying to shoehorn 13 artists into the allotted gallery space seems to have allowed several of their works to slip through the proverbial cracks.

The value of “Primavera” for young Australian artists, therefore, seems to be that it offers them the opportunity to exhibit in an institution that they otherwise might not be able to. In this respect, perhaps “Primavera” does not do the artists any favors.

Primavera 2014: Young Australian Artists is on view at the Museum of Contemporary, Sydney, until November 30, 2014.