The modern world started at different times in different places in different disciplines. In philosophy the modern world started in 1600. In the visual arts it is a few centuries later; modern art starts sometime in the mid 19th century and continues to around 1965. Contemporary art, is the current term used to describe galleries showing art created post WWII. But in Queensland, one of the more conservative states in Australia, the term “modern art” appears to still be with us.
I was under the misapprehension that GoMA, which opened in 2006 in Brisbane, was a contemporary art gallery. It looks like a contemporary art gallery. GoMA has three floors of contemporary gallery space and cinemas around a rather empty main foyer space. It has a dedicated children’s art area, an important feature of any new art gallery. There are also reading spaces, a reference library, and elegant outdoor balconies.
GoMA has contemporary art by Gilbert and George, Julian Opie and Ron Muerk in its collection. I didn’t see any art there created prior to WWII; that was all over in the QAG (Queensland Art Gallery). But when I looked I realized that GoMA stood for “Gallery of Modern Art”. So why is it still a “gallery of modern art”? Perhaps it is a slavish imitation of New York’s MoMA, established in 1929.
But it is not just GoMA with that is behind the times hanging on to the term “modern art” in Brisbane, there is also the Institute of Modern Art (IMA) in Fortitude Valley. And, like GoMA, the Queensland Government funds IMA. It is even stranger because IMA is in the same building as the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts. There is no modern art at IMA; it shows contemporary art exhibitions.
You would have thought that someone would have said that the term “modern art” is not the correct term. Just next door the State Library of Queensland when I visited was showing the touring exhibition “Modern Times: the untold story of modernism in Australia”. For this exhibition modernism in Australia was defined as between 1917 and 1967.
Art history definitions aside, it is very difficult to understand the difference between the QAG and GoMA except that they are different buildings on Brisbane’s South bank precinct (another example of Brisbane’s slavish copying). The same artists are exhibited in both galleries: Ah Xian has art currently on exhibition in both. Both share the same website. QAG appears to have simply extended into another building with a silly name. QAG is more of a modern art gallery than GoMA with modern artists like Tatlin, Miro and Picasso in its collection. Typical of modern art galleries, QUG has a history of art sampler collection with example work, second or third rate, collected to illustrate the history of art. This historical approach to the collection at QUG is in contrast to the contemporary style of themed exhibition of GoMA’s permanent collection.
I don’t know why Queensland still uses the term “modern art”. Art is not an important feature in a state where beach holiday tourism, sugar cane and horse racing have always been more important. The QAG is the major state art gallery but only had a permanent home in 1982. Perhaps there is still “modern art” in Queensland because of the belief that “a better future” can be made in Brisbane. Or maybe the Queensland’s politicians are too parochial, stupid and ignorant to the listen to anyone else.