The Museum of Contemporary Art Sydney is one of the sites of The National art event. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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BY STEPHANIE TILLER

Sydney’s peak art institutions are being praised for putting Australian artists at the forefront of new art event, The National.

The exhibition was established in 2015 after representatives from The Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA), Art Gallery of New South Wales and Carriageworks began talks about forging a partnership to create a large-scale art event.

The National 2017 was born from these talks, with the focus of the exhibition being to create a detailed survey of contemporary Australian art.

Blair French, Director of Curatorial and Digital at the MCA and Curator of The National 2017, says the exhibition is the first of its kind for Australia.

“The National is a new survey exhibition of current Australian art that’s presented across three major institutions, developed and co-presented by those institutions.

“It’s part of an ongoing program as we’re looking to do this in 2017, 2019 and 2021 to sort of build up a very detailed overview of Australian art in that period.

“It is the largest current survey of Australian art, so for an audience member they’re going to see the most concentrated and most substantial body of new Australian art that they’ll have the opportunity to view at any one time anywhere,” he said.

Brianna Munting, Deputy Director of the National Association for the Visual Arts, says The National is also giving artists the opportunity to contribute to public debate about the current state of the country.

“Sydney Biennale and other events like that really focus on global discussions and global participation both curatorially and within the artist selection, so having this show of local talent is really what Australia needs at this moment.

“It’s celebrating our contemporary artists and bringing them into the general public and I think also what it has created when you go to the spaces is that there is this unique energy and people are learning and thinking about what contemporary Australia means.

“I think The National doesn’t shy away from changes that are happening in this country, it’s contributing to those debates and it’s making sure that artists voices are at the centre of them within the public realm,” she said.

The National 2017 exhibiting artist, Nell, says the exhibition has also provided a platform for Australian artists to come out of the shadow of their international counterparts.

“Often Australian artists are at the bottom of the barrel when it comes to internationally focused art events in terms of support.

“We’ve still got that cultural thing where we want to look after everyone else before ourselves so being able to celebrate the incredible art and artists that we have here is a great opportunity.

“What happens when you give artists space and money is that they step up and that is certainly what has happened in The National,” she said.

Wayne Tunnicliffe, Head of Australian Art at the Art Gallery of New South Wales and Curator of The National, says The National is picking up where Australian Perspecta left off over a decade ago.

“The National really is picking up in a way from where the Australian Perspecta in the 1990’s and 1980’s finished.

“When it finished I think many people missed that large scale survey format and the chance to look at groups of work and this is kind of Perspecta enlarged, it’s bigger than the Perspecta’s were.

“I think The National will also help Australian artists increase their profile internationally with curators coming through to visit and with media attention happening more broadly,” he said.

Mr French says the partnership between the three major art institutions has laid the groundwork for future collaboration.

“I think this has really opened up the inner workings of each organisation to each other and sort of highlighted how there are certain things that if we come together on, we can do really well and that has benefits for the artists and also for the audiences.

“We’ve certainly started talking about further collaboration, we don’t have any firm ideas but even if it’s not necessarily major exhibition projects but the ways in which our learning teams and digital teams can work together is really important,” he said.

The National 2017 exhibiting artist, Agatha Gothe-Snape, says it is important to see how the state of play in Australia is reflected in contemporary art.

“We’re in Australia and we’re very use to almost having a sense of excusing our artistic culture and playing down the huge contribution that it makes to our society.

“I think it’s important to have a moment to think about what is prescient for Australian society right now and artists are really good at articulating some of that and that is a privilege to be able to see that.

“I mean I think just walking around The National is really interesting as a snapshot of what is important in our world right now,” she said.

The National 2017 is running until July 16 at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Art Gallery of New South Wales and Carriageworks.