Patricia Piccinini has taken over the entire ground floor of GOMA for an ambitious retrospective of her work, Curious Affection. Having grown in international popularity in recent years, she is one of Australia’s most prominent contemporary artists, regarded for her distinctive style of hyperrealism. Diving into Piccinini’s world at GOMA raises more questions than answers, and that’s exactly the kind of discussion the artist hopes to inspire.
Piccinini was the world’s most visited artist in 2016, but her latest exhibition at GOMA is by far her most ambitious to date. It is her first solo retrospective in Australia, and it features more than 70 works – a mix of new and recent sculptures, as well as photographs, videos, drawings and large-scale installations.
If you’re not familiar with the Melbourne-based artist, you may recall Skywhale, which floated above New Farm Park in 2014, after its controversial debut in Canberra the year before. Like much of Piccinini’s work, Skywhale challenges our ideas of beauty, nature and perfection, and that is the starting point for deeper discussions about the moral implications of science and biotechnology.
“There is a really strong emotional content to her work, and that is what stays with you,” explains Peter McKay, Curator Contemporary Australian Art at QAGOMA. “She is telling these really amazing stories – stories of wild imagination and social concern – and doing it in a very convincing and entrancing way.”
Piccinini represented Australia at the 50th Venice Biennale in 2003 and her profile has risen incrementally since then. She has also shown her works at Galway International Arts Festival, Montreal, Istanbul, Brazil and San Francisco.
In that time since she first entered the global stage, McKay explains that her work has matured significantly, and points to recent advances in technology as a catalyst for this.
“The technology she references and that is the premise for her creations has advanced very rapidly and I think that has given her imagination a lot of freedom,” he says. “So the works we see coming out of the studio now are just on an entirely other level of insight, complexity, nuance and resolution. She has cast entire worlds and she is sort of spinning contemporary fables, whereas before I think she made artworks that were scenarios.”
These fables have seen GOMA’s ground floor transformed into a series of environments that question the path we're treading as humans. Featuring creatures that the artist imagines could exist in world just beyond our own, each space feels somewhat familiar, yet also incredibly foreign.
It’s this simultaneous sense of closeness and distance coupled with a register of human emotion that opens up discussion about evolution and topical social issues.
McKay admits that while Piccinini is not the only artist with a hyper-real approach, she is taking it a step further with the complexity of the narratives she creates. This complexity extends through to the technical production of her art, which is the work of a number of collaborating artists.
Her Melbourne studio is staffed by a team of artists who carefully bring each otherworldy creation to life by rendering materials like silicone and fiberglass into life-like sculptures. The exhibition features a work called The Offering, which visitors can touch to fully appreciate the laborious craftsmanship that goes into each piece.
Other key works in the exhibition include The Field, an installation of more than 3,000 specially created flower sculptures; Pneutopia, a large inflatable in the atrium; and The Couple, an original 1980s caravan containing a sculpture of a pair in a loving embrace.
With discussion around the relationship between humans, science and biotechnology only increasing, Piccinini’s intricate practice is growing in relevance. And McKay says that is why GOMA felt that now was the right time to shine a spotlight on the artist.
“As we caught up with the significance of what she was doing, we became very confident in handing over that ground floor space to a contemporary Australian artist in a way that we have never done before.”
Patricia Piccinini: Curious Affection
24 March to 5 August, 2018
Up Late: Fridays from 8 June to 5 July, 2018
Image: Patricia Piccinini, The Bond (2016)