Birth of the Cool

Arts Review Samstag David Aspden Outer spice 1970Currently on display at Adelaide’s Samstag Museum of Art, Birth of the Cool surveys the decade between 1963 and 1973 through the work of four painters: David Aspden, Sydney Ball, Michael Johnson and Dick Watkins and their common idiom: hard-edge, colour-field abstraction.

With the benefit of hindsight, the decade between 1963 and 1973 can be reappraised as a golden era of Australian art, with a brilliant generation emerging in full confidence of its powers, determined to excel at the highest level – not just locally, but in a global context.

The art historian Bernard Smith characterised this generation as the first genuine avant-garde to appear in Australia since the Heidelberg School in the 1880s. Greeted enthusiastically as a liberation from dowdy provincialism and ingrained mediocrity, the trail-blazers of the new generation were cheered on by supporters in the art community and critical establishment but simultaneously howled down by a chorus of detractors.

Hard-edge, colour-field abstraction – their common idiom – is best remembered in connection with the exhibition The Field held in Melbourne and Sydney in 1968, in which Aspden, Ball, Johnson and Watkins participated.

The works they exhibited then have gone into the history books and were given pride of place in various museum collections. But since the 1960s hard-edge, colour-field abstraction fell out of curatorial and critical favour… so was it merely the passing fad that its detractors had always alleged?

Birth of the Cool is curated by Terence Maloon, Director of the Drill Hall Gallery, Australian National University, who contributes an extensive essay to the e-publication available on the Samstag website.

“In the last few years a reappraisal of the art and artists of the 1960s has been in full swing,” says Samstag Director Erica Green. “Birth of the Cool will contribute to this reconsideration by presenting some of the finest, most dazzling works borrowed from private and institutional collections across Australia.’

Birth of the Cool
Anne & Gordon Samstag Museum of Art, 55 North Terrace, Adelaide
Exhibition continues to Friday 18 September 2015
Free entry

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Image: Image: David ASPDEN (Australia, 1935 – 2005), Outer spice, 1969, synthetic polymer paint on canvas, 152.4 x 244.0 x 2.8 cm, Art Gallery of New South Wales. Purchased with funds provided by an anonymous purchase fund for contemporary Australian art 1970. Photograph AGNSW, © Karen Aspden, OA19.1970.