Vivienne Binns: On and through the Surface

MCA-Vivienne-Binns-Painting-without-title-2022 2019-ongoing-Installation-ViewSurveying 60 years of work by one of Australia’s most significant living painters, Vivienne Binns: On and through the Surface, the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (MCA) presents the first retrospective dedicated to the artist.

Curated by Anneke Jaspers (Senior Curator, Collection, MCA) and Hannah Mathews (Senior Curator, MUMA), this major survey exhibition brings together over one hundred artworks on loan from public and private collections and from the artist’s collection.

The MCA presentation developed by Youssofzay + Hart architects will expand on the exhibition in its first iteration at Monash University Museum of Art (MUMA) with a new artwork-in-progress by the artist, and an exclusive display of archival material relating to Binns’ community-based projects. There will also be a new film commissioned by the MCA that offers insights into Binns’ studio and artistic process.

Speaking about Vivienne Binns: On and through the Surface and the associated monograph, the American feminist art historian, curator and writer Lucy R. Lippard said, “It’s hard to overestimate Vivienne Binns’ contributions to Australian art, and to feminism through her long and generous career as an artist in the “high art” and the community arts contexts.

“Few have managed to be so outstanding in both fields. The variety is staggering, and the joy is ubiquitous,” said Lippard.

“Vivienne Binns has been at the forefront of progressive art practice in Australia for many years. The MCA exhibition celebrates all facets of Binns’ contribution to contemporary art, from her early, iconic depictions of the body – which anticipated the feminist art movement – to her meditations on Australia’s place in the Pacific,” said MCA curator, Anneke Jaspers.

“It highlights Binns’ significant artist-in-community projects and gives MCA visitors a rich insight into her creative process.”

Vivienne Binns: On and through the Surface at the MCA traces the collaborative and community projects that spanned two decades of Binns’s early career. During the 1970s and 1980s, Binns turned away from the formal institutions of art and produced a series of celebrated artist-in-community projects.

Centered around feminist processes of collectivity and collaboration, these works were focused on elevating the stories and experiences of women and encouraging public participation in the arts. Lippard has described these radical undertakings as ‘intricately structural’ efforts to bridge the domain of art with social relations.

These pivotal works will be explored through an exclusive display of archival materials and documentation, which has been jointly devised with the artist and architects Youssofzay + Hart.

This section of the exhibition will include photographs, posters, media clippings, printed ephemera and videos; surviving artworks related to Binns’ enameling practice; and her major collaborative installation Tower of Babel, 1989-ongoing.

Among the highlights in the exhibition is Binns’ current work-in-progress Painting without title 20222019 – ongoing, exhibited for the first time. This is Binns’ latest work which she may continue to modify when it returns to her studio. By Binns’ measure, the canvas has ‘none of the intensity and intellectual concerns of the earlier paintings.’

Instead, the subtlety and precision of different marks come to the fore. The mass of circles and interconnecting lines that dominate the composition may allude to maps of urban rail networks or/and the body at the level of jostling blood cells and firing synapses. However, for Binns the work is ‘not about those things. The meaning comes from somewhere in between the references.’

Another highlight is Binns’ early works that reflect her involvement in the 1960s women’s movement, defined by powerful images of sexual and psychological inquiry. Several paintings from her first solo exhibition in 1967 are now recognised as iconic proto-feminist works, alongside the contemporaneous ‘central core’ imagery of artists such as Judy Chicago and Miriam Schapiro.

Also presented will be The aftermath and the ikon of fear, 1984–85, which was recently co-acquired by the MCA with Tate, London. The body of work to which this canvas belongs emerged out of intense psychological probing by Binns into both the spectre of her earlier sexual imagery and the ‘dam of knowledge’ accrued from her time working in the field, posing a vivid counterpoint to the ascendant post-pop aesthetic of the era.

There will be a focus on Binns 1990s practice looking at what it means to be situated as an artist in Australia’s settler colonial context on the Pacific rim. Binns’ output during this period was partly inspired by travel to London, Japan, Cook Islands, Samoa and the Kimberley with a view to deepening her knowledge about the geopolitics of the Asia-Pacific region, its interwoven cultural ineages, and her own identity.

The MCA will present an in-depth look into Binns creative process via a new film shot in the artist’s studio. In this film Binns elaborates on the many ‘aids to manufacture’ she has used to achieve her virtuosic painterly effects – from unusual brushes to stencils, rollers and combs, many of which she has fashioned herself.

Vivienne Binns: On and through the Surface is a partnership between the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (MCA) in Sydney and Monash University Museum of Art (MUMA), Melbourne.

Vivienne Binns: On and through the Surface
Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (MCA), George Street, The Rocks (Sydney)
Exhibition continues to 25 September 2022
Free entry

For more information, visit: for details.

Image: Vivienne Binns, Painting without title 2022, 2019 – ongoing, installation view, On and through the Surface, Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, Sydney – image courtesy the artist and Museum of Contemporary Art Australia © the artist – photo by Jacquie Manning