“Modern Art” in Brisbane

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.


About Mark Holsworth

Writer, independent researcher and artist, Mark Holsworth is the author of the book Sculptures of Melbourne. View all posts by Mark Holsworth

4 responses to ““Modern Art” in Brisbane

  • Ben Gaffney

    Where was it Jim Morrison said he was “…stoned immaculate”? Thats right, “Out here on the perimeter”. His perimeter may have referred to his personal envelope stretching. Or it may have referred to Los Angeles being on the leading edge of an English speaking Western European Empire. Brisbane, like Los Angeles, is closer to this leading edge than Melbourne or New York City. Interesting to contrast the values found at the leading edge of an empire such as parochialism, stupidity, and ignorance with those found at the leading edge of contempary (but not modern, for christ’s sakes) art such as apreciation of diversity, erudition, and creativity. Happily both edges may share the quality of pomposity.
    Cheers, Ben

  • Hels

    I understand the confusion “between the QAG and GoMA, except that they are different buildings on Brisbane’s South bank precinct”. And since they were developed VERY close together geographically, one board could have easily shared the planning. The Queensland Art Gallery (QAG) didn’t have a permanent home until the new building in South Bank was opened in 1982 and the Queensland Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) opened in December 2006. A turf war, do you think?

    Some well-thought out programmes have indeed emerged in the QAG, very often from MoMA in New York, I am guessing. “Picasso and His Friends” was well worth flying up to Brisbane for.. which spouse and I did. “Andy Warhol” was apparently a good exhibition, but I personally didn’t see it. The “American Impressionism and Realism” show may not be your cup of tea, but it has been well curated and makes a decent job of linking events in Paris with the USA and Australia.

    I hope the Brisbane galleries get it all sorted. Soon.

  • Jay Dee

    Haha! Mark, your last two posts (and the comments) have had me in peals of laughter!!! I live in Brisbane – anytime I tell someone I am an artist their automatic response is ‘what do you paint?’ – I’m a printmaker. Does that answer your question re why it is all ‘Modern’ still? :) – despite the naming of our galleries, it was a huge step forward in the art scene to even get GoMA buitl so I am just happy we have it at all. Next time you are in Brisbane you should check out Doggett St Gallery and Nine Lives (also located in the valley).

  • cantueso

    But most nouns that are used to deal with values like art or ethics reflect the user’s mind, and nothing can be done about it. You cannot oblige anyone to respect for instance a dictionary definition. No exclusively word based definition can be binding.

    In a little town here in Spain I went to the stationer’s to buy Christmas cards, and they were Mickey Mouse style, all of them.
    I said I preferred classical.
    Oh, the shopkeeper said: all of these are classical!

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