‘Summing them up as morbid or deathly, but their very primitiveness, their sledge hammer effects, reinforce this mentally; naked extreme art’
Profoundly Art-Critic G.R.Lansell is describing Peter Booths early ‘Field’ work, a slate of black and grey on a minimalist canvas however he could have been describing his later dramatic figurative art.
Although the artist’s work morphed into an entirely different style, the essence of the artist’s style was conceived.
The Field exhibition launched Melbourne’s art scene in 1968 however it was not fully embraced by the locals.
The battle between Figurative Art that was the flagship of the Melbourne art tribes such as the Reed’s at Hiede and the Boyd’s at Murumbeena, had rallied against the American influence of the exhibition. At the time the exhibition was not organically Melbourne, nor was it entirely ‘International’.
The New York art critic Clement Greenberg criticised the first NGV Contemporary exhibition as ‘ second-rate.’
The exhibition aimed at awakening a sleepy town, after the failure of the 1956 Gallery of Contemporary Art. The new NGV curator John Stringer thrust his ideas forward and imposed his stipulations on the artists; they were happy to comply as careers and reputations were being made.
In today’s climate the work stands the test of time but to mark the journey of the Abstract Movement there is no greater example than Ron Robertson’s ‘Vault’.
The Vault was placed in the City Square in 1980, twelve years after the exhibition but the local reaction marks the cultural journey of Melbourne. The sculpture received such disfavour that it was nicknamed the ‘Yellow Peril’ by journalists and removed from its place due to public demand. It was a displaced work and was thrown into the shadows until 2002 when it found its home outside the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art.
The art of The Field exhibition sits comfortably within our minimalist technological community . The ideas that may have seemed cold, isolated and sterile during the ‘flower power’ period have a greater relevance in 2018, within a world disconnecting with nature and embracing the virtual.
The Field Exhibition was the first piece of the NGV journey that began in 1968 and was 50 years before its time.
Banner photo Rolla Scape 1968 Janet Dawson