Heide Museum of Modern Art is proud to present two important exhibitions this February, originally intended to coincide with the museum’s 40th anniversary in late 2021: a major thematic retrospective of renowned Australian modernist Sidney Nolan and a new work by Dean Cross in response to Nolan.
Featuring key works, including several well-known masterpieces, Sidney Nolan: Search for Paradise surveys Nolan’s career from a fresh perspective, and pays tribute to this central figure in the history of the museum and the lives of its founders, John and Sunday Reed.
For Nolan Heide was a garden of Eden, that he later saw as a season in hell, where his life-long fascination with the elusive notion of paradise and the consequences of its loss began.
From his nostalgia for St Kilda, his childhood heaven, to his explorations of the Australian landscape and restless travels abroad, Sidney Nolan: Search for Paradise examines one of the artist’s deepest impulses and the journey of self-discovery it engendered.
Celebrated inter-disciplinary artist Dean Cross presents a contemporary response to Nolan’s legacy in Sometimes I Miss the Applause, a new Heide commission and dual channel moving image work that confronts, complicates, and rebalances dominant modernist cultural and social histories.
Using performance Cross inserts himself, and by association First Nations perspectives into the mythologies that Nolan set out to re-examine, shifting and providing a contemporary perspective and context to appropriated and overwritten histories, perennial human questions and artistic concerns shared between the two artists across generations.
“One of Australia’s leading artists of the twentieth century, Sidney Nolan is synonymous with Heide, and we are delighted to mark the museum’s 40th anniversary with this significant exhibition and a new work by contemporary artist Dean Cross that offers a timely critique of this art world giant,” said Heide Museum of Modern Art Artistic Director Lesley Harding.
“Together they celebrate our rich history as a site of Australian modernity while simultaneously looking ahead to a bright future as we continue to build on the Reed’s legacy and champion new voices.”
Presented in the Heide Museum of Modern Art’s Main Galleries, Sidney Nolan: Search for Paradise offers new insights into his life-long fascination with the elusive notion of paradise, beginning with Nolan’s nostalgia for St Kilda, his childhood heaven, his arcadian Heide years, and his revelations about the Australian landscape in the Wimmera in the early 1940s.
It includes later representations of Australia and its mythic figures, including Ned Kelly, Eliza Fraser, and Burke and Wills, which embody similar ideas of the promised land and escape, exile, and futility.
Paintings of travels to alluring locations from the mid-1950s and beyond further document Nolan’s realisation that ‘nothing is fixed—everything keeps being transformed—and you have to sense where Paradise is in the process’.
Sidney Nolan: Search for Paradise is an important project for Heide,” said Heide Museum of Modern Art Head Curator Kendrah Morga. “It acknowledges Nolan’s significance to not only the history of Heide and its reputation as a crucible of modernism in Australia, but also to its legacy.”
“Including many well-known masterpieces, the exhibition also considers Nolan’s diversity of interests, techniques, and aesthetic approaches during pivotal periods in his career as he sought critical recognition and commercial success and embarked on his life beyond his enmeshment with the Reeds.
The exhibition is structured using six themes including:
- Childhood Heaven explores Nolan’s ongoing nostalgic connection to St Kilda, for him a utopian site of evocative memories from his childhood and youth.
- Garden of Eden focuses on Nolan’s formative period time at Heide with art patrons John and Sunday Reed, leading into his reinvention of the Australian landscape in the Wimmera, and his imaging of a uniquely Australian myth in the form of his visual narrative of the Kelly gang’s exploits.
- Paradise Lost and Found traces Nolan’s 1947 trip to Queensland, encounter with Fraser Island and rupture with the Reeds, as expressed through his preoccupation with the story of Eliza Fraser and her betrayal of the convict Bracewell. This theme also examines Nolan’s representation of the Australian outback as both paradise and its inversion through lyrical studies of Queensland scenery, flora and fauna and surrealist-inflected drought images, along with paintings of Burke and Wills’ ill-fated expedition.
- The Promised Land follows Nolan to Europe in the 1950s, charting his sojourns in Italy, on the idyllic Greek island of Hydra, and subsequent travels to far-flung exotic locations such as Africa and Antarctica.
- Search for Self features a number of celebrated self-portraits and images of alter ego that explore Nolan’s identification with complex and romanticised anti-heroes, from the fugitive bushranger Ned Kelly and fictitious poet Ern Malley to transgressive proto-surrealist Arthur Rimbaud.
- Paradise Garden sees the exhibition and Nolan’s wanderings come full circle in an immersive installation of fecund tropical Paradise Garden drawings that were conceived in tandem with vengeful poems reflecting on Nolan’s past relationship with the Reeds and Heide. At once sensuous and venomous, these works embody the paradox of Nolan’s ceaseless quest, with paradise forever beyond his reach.
Presented in the Project Gallery from Saturday 5 February, Sometimes I Miss the Applause by inter-disciplinary artist Dean Cross focuses on the life, work and persona of Sidney Nolan and draws upon some of Nolan’s most recognisable imagery. Wearing a mask with a likeness of Nolan, Cross appropriates a self-portrait painting from 1943, conflating Nolan’s image with his own.
Through this shift of identity Cross triggers a complex narrative in which autobiographical moments from both his and Nolan’s life become inextricably intertwined suggesting a series of convergences, cultural collisions and slippages in time.
In his unfolding parallel narrative, two characters, each on separate screens, with the composite appearances of Cross and Nolan, simultaneously rehearse a dance performance.
Identifying their dance movements as ‘a rehearsal’, Cross incisively alludes to history and culture as a dynamic work-in-progress, a complex unfinished trajectory in which ideas, practices and gestures are constantly shifting being contested, challenged, redefined, rewritten and realigned.
With Sometimes I Miss the Applause Cross explores Heide as simultaneously a site of Australian modernity and millennia of First Nations cultural practice.
“With a background in contemporary dance and choreography and a multidisciplinary practice spanning installation, sculpture and photography, Dean Cross has become one of Australia’s most exciting and ascendant early career artists,” said Heide Senior Curator Melissa Keys.
“This new commission continues his personal fascination with Sidney Nolan’s artistic practice, legacy and life. Sometimes I Miss The Applause explores Heide simultaneously as a site of Australian modernity and millennia of First Nations cultural practice and continuing history.”
“The work confronts and explores the legacy of modernism, shifting perspective from dominant cultural and social histories, offering audiences a timely and fresh celebration, critique and rebalancing take on Nolan’s contribution as a pivotal figure in visual culture and national identity,” said Keys.
Dean Cross: Sometimes I Miss the Applause
Kerry Gardner & Andrew Myer Project Gallery – Heide Museum of Modern Art, 7 Templestowe Road, Bulleen
Exhibition: 5 February – 29 May 2022
Free entry after general admission
Sidney Nolan: Search for Paradise
Heide Galleries – Heide Museum of Modern Art, 7 Templestowe Road, Bulleen
Exhibition: 19 February – 13 June 2022
Free entry after general admission
Images: Sidney Nolan, Kelly and Horse, 1946, enamel paint on composition board, 92.1 x 122.4 cm – © Canberra Museum and Gallery, Canberra | Sidney Nolan, Bathers, 1943, ripolin enamel on canvas, 62.9 x 75.5 cm, Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne. Bequest of John and Sunday Reed 1982 © The Trustees of the Sidney Nolan Trust/DACS. Licensed by Copyright Agency | Dean Cross, Self Portrait as Sidney Nolan’s Self Portrait 1943, 2021 – image courtesy of the artist and Yavuz Gallery Sydney & Singapore © the artist