Australian Surrealism – The Agapitos/Wilson collection



 Max Dupain, Doll’s Head & Goat Skull. Silver gelatin photograph, c.1935

The National Gallery of Australia is currently hosting an incredible exhibition of Australian Surrealist works from the Agapitos/Wilson collection, offering the chance to view some of the country’s most outstanding yet rarely exhibited pieces of 20th century art from the likes of Dupain, Gleeson, Nolan and Klippel. 

As exhibition curator Elena Taylor tells us via the NGA website “The story of Surrealism in Australia has until recently remained largely unknown. It was only in 1993 with the National Gallery of Australia’s exhibition Surrealism: revolution by night that the extent of Surrealist practice in this country was revealed. That seminal exhibition led the Sydney collectors James Agapitos, OAM, and Ray Wilson, OAM, to focus their energies towards collecting Australian Surrealist art. Assembled with intellect and passion, their collection became the largest and most important repository of Australian Surrealist art in private hands.”

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 Gleeson, James - Attitude of Lightning toward a Lady Mountain

James Gleeson, The attitude of lightining towards a lady mountain. Oil on canvas,  1939

“The National Gallery of Australia has recently acquired the Agapitos/Wilson collection through a combination of gift and purchase. Covering the period 1925 to 1955, the Agapitos/Wilson collection includes 285 paintings, prints, collages, drawings, photographs and sculptures by the foremost artists associated with Surrealist art practice in Australia.

“While there was no organised Surrealist movement in Australia, its importance lies in the fact that some of Australia’s leading artists were influenced by Surrealism at a formative period of their careers. James Gleeson, Sidney Nolan, Albert Tucker, Arthur Boyd, Robert Klippel and Max Dupain all experimented with Surrealist ideas and methods, and the impact it had on their art at that time and on their future development was decisive. Other artists, such as Ivor Francis, produced their best works under its influence. The story of Surrealism in Australia is of artists responding in individualistic ways to the possibilities it offered. With the exception of Gleeson, Australian artists did not become committed Surrealists; rather, they dipped in and out of Surrealism, selectively taking what they wanted for the enrichment of their art.


Robert Klippel, not titled [P19, organic machine with suspended shape in electro-magnetic field]. Pen and brush and brown ink, 1949

“While Surrealism was not conceived as an artistic movement, its influence was to be felt most strongly in the visual arts, including painting, sculpture, photography and film. Surrealism was officially born in Paris in 1924 with the publication of French poet and intellectual André Breton’s Manifesto of Surrealism. For the Surrealists, the exploration of the unconscious mind, pioneered by Sigmund Freud, was a way to liberate the imagination from the dominance of reason. This would lead to the breaking of restrictive social conventions, bring to light previously repressed feelings and result in the greater happiness of mankind. The Surrealists’ aim was to revolutionise society at all levels, and Breton argued that the way forward was ‘the future resolution of these two states, dream and reality, which are seemingly so contradictory, into a kind of absolute reality, a surreality'”

Australian Surrealism – The Agapitos/Wilson collection is on at the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, until 11 May 2008.

Robert Feb 28th 2008 03:39 pm Art,Events No Comments yet Trackback URI

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