by Neometro

Curating Melbourne Now & Sydney Biennale: Max Delany

Arts & Events - by Sophie Davies

Two of Australia’s most significant art events, Melbourne Now and the 19th Biennale of Sydney, are the largest contemporary art offerings each city will stage for years to come. Open Journal lined up Juliana Engberg, Artistic Director of the Sydney Biennale, and Max Delany, Senior Curator of Contemporary Art at the National Gallery of Victoria, to pose a set of corresponding questions to get insights into programming two city-defining cultural events.

In this post, we speak to Max Delany. For Juliana Engberg, click here.



How does the show express the spirit of Melbourne?

We were interested in the ways in which artists shape the city, its identity and diverse social, political and civic contexts, and how the city in turn informs creative practice. As an expansive, multi-disciplinary exhibition, Melbourne Now was conceived to represent the complexity of Melbourne’s cultural landscape. It involves approximately 175 individual and group presentations, encompassing more than 300 artists, harnessing the energies of Melbourne’s visual arts and cultural communities, and providing a platform for ambitious new ideas. We also involved guest curators, artists as curators, as well as magazines and other collaborators, who were invited to curate sections or to insert ‘exhibitions within the exhibition’.

The idea and character of the city have been equally influential. Melbourne’s urban and suburban contexts provide a model for the different configurations and passages through Melbourne Now, with processional boulevards and labyrinthine, laneway-like clusters arranged alongside more public spaces for performance, events and community participation.

Many of the most exciting aspects of the city’s cultural life are located in specific, often grassroots milieux – spanning the art world, academic, Indigenous and multicultural communities – which we wanted to reflect. Alongside visual arts, Melbourne is recognised as an international centre for architecture and design, fashion, dance and choreography, independent publishing, music and sound art, and biotechnology, which are also showcased. We hope Melbourne Now might be as complex and dynamic as the cultural landscape of the city itself.

What values and qualities did you look for when selecting and commissioning work?

We were keen to represent the contemporary coming together of art and cultural practice, criticism and experimentation, community and dialogue. Melbourne Now seeks to bring the wider cultural landscape into the institution, but also to extend back into the city itself.

Increasingly today, art is marked by a giddying, heterogeneous and sometimes bewildering array of media, actions, events and conceptual manoeuvres, or by ephemeral and immaterial forms, which register the effect of digital realms, virtual networks and incessant image flows. It is also characterised by a growing interest in social relations; in how we might conceive new ways to live and work together; how artists and designers might shape society and the spaces in which we live; and how new artistic formations might be conceived as alternatives to conventional wisdom.

Which new or emerging artists/designers are you excited about presenting? And any big-name coups?

Melbourne Now represents diverse practitioners, from emerging talents to distinguished artists and designers. On Top of the World: Flags for Melbourne, developed with Spacecraft studio, was an especially rewarding project, in which 16 artists were invited to design flags for poles across the city from the Royal Exhibition Building to Flinders Street Station, encouraging debate about place and cultural identity, communication and belonging. As a curtain-raiser, it extended the exhibition beyond the confines of the gallery.

We were especially pleased to commission major new works by leading contemporary artists such as Marco Fusinato, Daniel Crooks, Destiny Deacon, Anastasia Klose and Jess Johnson, all of which will leave legacies in the NGV Collection. We were equally delighted to engage a wide range of emerging practitioners, from architecture and design, publishing and sound art, fashion, dance and choreography.

Patricia Piccinini, The Carrier 2012

What reactions do you hope to evoke from viewers? 

We hope Melbourne Now might charge, alter and invigorate the senses, and encourage new perspectives. Ideally, the exhibition will serve as a platform for a wider cultural conversation about the place in which we live, and the contribution that art makes to a creative, tolerant, ethical and adventurous society.

What challenges have you faced in curating a show of this scale?

A key challenge was to choreograph a great diversity of artists and works, all the while retaining a degree of autonomy and integrity for the respective practices, yet opening things up to encourage dialogue between artists and art forms, and wider community debate.

The collaborative curatorial structure of Melbourne Now has involved more than 20 curators, so it has also been a logistical challenge, but one which has been transformative both for the NGV – introducing new ways of working internally, and with artists and audiences – and for our visitors’ experience of engaging with contemporary art.

What are you looking forward to seeing at the Biennale of Sydney?

Juliana Engberg curates exhibitions with verve and memory, philosophy and humour, sense and sensibility. I look forward to seeing the creations of artists with whom she has worked repeatedly, as well as meeting new artists as a result of her intrepid research, travels and thinking.

Zoe Croggon – Fonteyn 2012

Melbourne Now

Until 23 March 2014
Various sites, including the Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia and NGV International


By Sophie Davies


Images at top:
1) Ash Keating, NGV International North Wall Billboard Intervention 2013
2) Ash Keating, West Park Proposition 2012
3) Marco Fusinato, Aetheric Plexus Broken X) 2013
4) Kirsten McIver, Sitting Piece 2012
5) Max Delany, Senior Curator of Contemporary Art, National Gallery of Victoria


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