On the world stage: Gordon Bennett - Art Collector

Issue 63, January - March 2013

This profile appeared in the On the world stage feature, part of the annual special issue 50 Things Collectors Need to Know 2013.

Gordon Bennett, Abstraction (Townie), 2012. Synthetic polymer paint on canvas, 182.5 x 152cm. Courtesy: the artist and Milani Gallery, Brisbane

Gordon Bennett does not travel well but his work does. He did travel overseas a few times in the 1990s, following his work to Europe, Japan and the United States, but has resisted overseas travel in the past decade. Perhaps this is why he is so prolific. His studio is at home and he rarely travels except for his own openings. However, his inclusion in 2012 in Documenta and a retrospective of his work at AAMU – the museum of contemporary Aboriginal art at Utrecht in The Netherlands – were too big for him to miss. I accompanied him to both venues and four months later was back at AAMU to deliver a public lecture on his art.

The AAMU is the only contemporary art museum in Europe, indeed the world, to be wholly committed to collecting Australian Aboriginal art. It also has an exciting agenda. Since his appointment as chief curator to AAMU in 2005, Georges Petitjean – whom many Australians in the field of Aboriginal art know well – has worked hard to widen the general European understanding of Aboriginal art. Petitjean began by inviting Brook Andrew to deconstruct the museum and the idea of Aboriginal art in what became a very controversial exhibition. Since then Petitjean has developed a series of exhibitions that embed Indigenous issues in the contemporary art world, with a particular mission to open dialogues between it and the local Dutch experiences of contemporary art. Bennett’s conversations with Mondrian made him an obvious target of Petitjean’s curatorial eye.

Like Andrew, Bennett only agreed to the exhibition because of Petitjean’s approach. Over 40 of Bennett’s works, from his earliest to most recent, were included in the exhibition, which ran from September to December. I was surprised at the number of people who attended the opening. The gallery was overflowing.
Petitjean is very happy with the local reception of the exhibition, which has received exceptional press coverage. The exhibition averaged over 2,000 visitors per month. This is not surprising as Bennett’s art is visually compelling, intellectually challenging and packs a strong emotional punch. As Petitjean has said, its appeal is universal.

It is too early to judge the impact of this European tour on Bennett and his work. Documenta was particularly exciting, not just because of the large international exposure it provided but also because of the range of artists and art that could be seen there. He and Jimmie Durham (who was also included in Documenta last year) were very pleased to meet again, having last met some 20 years ago in London. They have since been discussing the possibility of a group show in a few years time both in Australia and overseas.

Ian McLean

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