Fleeting Art at Sydney’s MCA
By Michael Young
Last week, Australian-Chinese artist Guan Wei completed a 13-meter-long mural in the Mordant Wing foyer at Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA). The second commission in the location since it opened last year, The Journey to Australia (2013) makes reference to the waterside site of the MCA, where the First Fleet anchored in 1788, commencing the process of European colonization. In the mural, figures struggle to survive the foaming waters populated by menacing sea creatures.
Guan and his three assistants from China, with whom he has worked closely for ten years, executed the expansive work in a mere two weeks. “They know my style very well,” Guan informed AAP, explaining the team’s efficiency. Viewers familiar with the artist’s work will recognize his signature iconography: rich blue oceans, androgynous bodies, overcrowded boats, phantasmagorical ocean monsters and military hardware.
In total, the painted scene seems to reject Australia’s self-image as a multicultural paradise and surface the country’s exclusive immigration procedures and disregard for human rights, from the treatment of its own Indigenous population to the restrictive offshore processing legislation, which deters asylum seekers.
Guan himself is an immigrant to the country, and while he spends several months annually in Beijing, his exhibitions there are infrequent. His popularity in his adopted home, meanwhile, has grown rapidly. Last week, local gallery Martin Browne Contemporary reported selling 70 percent of Guan’s new works in a show that had just closed.
In 12 months time, Guan’s mural will be replaced, just as it replaced the first foyer commission by Helen Eager, Tango (2012). But the work’s transience does not concern the artist. “I enjoy the temporary nature of the work, something that is here for a few months and then gone. I’ll give the drawing studies to the MCA though, and then maybe in the future they can do it again.”