VISUAL ART: The West Revised and Revisited ; History and Memory in the Art of Gordon Bennett Ikon Gallery, Birmingham
Darwent, Charles, The Independent (London, England)
Strewth. Or rather, Gordon Bennett. This is the Australian artist Gordon Bennett on his own work: "By recontextualising images subtracted from the grid of Euro-Australian 'self' representation I attempt to show the constructed nature of history and identification as arbitrary. Within the modernist grid of spiritualist universality and stylistic utilitarianism, I hope to further explore a history of ideas."
Which just goes to prove that artists should not be allowed to talk about their art in public. Read Bennett and you might reasonably conclude that his work is just the kind of thing you do not want to see: pretentious and over-conceptualised. Which would be a shame, because this show of Bennett's paintings from the 1990s is one of the best exhibitions of the year.
A rough translation of what the artist is talking about is as follows. Bennett, a 44-year-old Queenslander who discovered late in life that he was part Aboriginal, has invented an iconography which mixes European art forms with native Australian ones. The point of this is political. Bennett sees in his own history the cultural history of Australia: of the burial of native values beneath those of invading Europeans. Bennett's mother, like most mixed-race children of her time, was sent to a compulsory "training school": a reformatory aimed at whitening out Australia's population by turning part-Aboriginal children into domestic servants. When he went to art school, Bennett felt subjected to the same process. Land painting was definitely not on the menu; instead, students were fed a conventional diet of Euro-American Modernism.
Thus a picture like Possession Island (1991), a history painting a la Benjamin West, of Captain Cook claiming Australia for the Crown while a Europeanised Aboriginal passes around drinks. …