Rewind: Geometric Abstraction

By Sue Cramer

Geometric Abstraction, installation view, ACCA, 1986. Courtesy ACCA Archive

Geometric Abstraction brought together artists from three generations of abstract painting current in the mid-1980s. It was the first time that some of that younger group of Melbourne artists who would later be associated with Store 5 gallery (1989 –1993) — Gary Wilson, Rose Nolan and Melinda Harper — were exhibited in a public art gallery alongside some of their teachers and mentors. A range of approaches were in evidence, from the hard edge and minimal works of Robert Hunter, Robert Jacks and Robert Owen, to the Op Art of Lesley Dumbrell, and the more conceptual approaches of Peter Cripps, Peter Tyndall and Robert MacPherson. MacPherson’s Where Are you Now Silvia Holmes? (1982-83) especially stands out in my memory. It subversively coupled a text sheet by MacPherson with a fantastic abstract painting by a little known artist, Silvia Holmes, which he had found in an op shop.

In my essay I described Nolan, Harper and Wilson (the latter founded and ran Store 5) as ‘the young constructivists’ and their works introduced a new material element. I enjoyed how Gary installed his painting — a large Suprematist circle painted onto a sheet of black plastic — by taping it casually to the wall across the two top corners. It had a powerful presence. Rose was similarly informal, hanging her emblematic painted hessian banners using nails or pins. In retrospect, I can see from my text that I had quite an idealistic view of the modernist avant-garde that was somewhat in keeping with the new romanticism of the times. Even now, I don’t really disagree with what I wrote then. My co-curator, artist, John Nixon designed the concept for the catalogue cover with his usual minimalist economy and flair, basing it on the generic covers of Penguin paperback novels. Their distinctive two bands of orange made a striking geometric composition in keeping with the exhibition’s theme.

Geometric Abstraction
11 September – 12 October 1986.
Exhibiting artists: Tim Burns, Peter Cripps, Leslie Dumbrell, Melinda Harper, Robert Hunter, Robert Jacks, Robert MacPherson, John Nixon, Rosemary Nolan, Robert Owen, Peter Tyndall, Gary Wilson

Sue Cramer was Curatorial Assistant at ACCA 1984-86. She subsequently became Director at the Institute of Modern Art, Curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, and is currently Curator at Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne.