‘Baldessin/Whiteley: Parallel Visions’ at the National Gallery of Victoria brings together the work of two major figures of 20th-century Australian art, for the first time. Born in the same year – 1939 – George Baldessin and Brett Whiteley both experienced meteoric success in their respective cities of Melbourne and Sydney during the 1960s and ‘70s. Tragically, both artists also died unexpectedly young.

Primarily a printmaker, sculptor and graphic artist, Baldessin’s practice reflected the rich multicultural humanism of Melbourne, infused with inspiration from France, Japan and Italy – his country of birth. The artist’s sophisticated command of intaglio printing and his radical approach to the human figure during a period dominated by modes of abstraction spawned renewed enthusiasm for the expressive possibilities of printmaking, central to the revival of the medium in Melbourne during the late 1960s and ʼ70s. Inspired by the surreal world of the circus and European New Wave cinema, Baldessin’s silvery-grey and black-and-white images of female nudes and figurative tableaux form poetic meditations on the body as the concrete basis of experience.

A celebrated figure of the Sydney art scene, Whiteley found early success in London and basked in the avant-garde cultural glow of New York before returning to Sydney. Working predominantly in painting, printmaking and sculpture, Whiteley’s style evolved dramatically throughout his tumultuous, creative life, moving from minimal abstract work to figurative, sexually charged and sometimes violent portraits, as well as expressive still lifes, interiors and landscapes.

Featuring over 120 rare and important works, ‘Parallel Visions’ is the most comprehensive display of works by Baldessin and Whiteley presented in the last two decades. Guest curated by Emeritus Professor Sasha Grishin AM, the show surveys the careers of both artists, spotlighting the unusual and unexpected synergies between their provocative and expressive visual language. It showcases their shared use of the human figure as a conduit to comment on the human condition with a uniquely Australian sensibility.

Notable pieces include Whiteley’s magnus opus The American dream (1968-69), an immersive painting spanning twenty-two metres created in response to his time in New York City, as well as Baldessin’s MM of Rue St Denis series (1976), which transposes the Christian figure of Mary Magdalene into the streets of Paris. Also on display are five of Baldessin’s large-scale pear sculptures, Pears (1971–72), three of which have been newly cast especially for this exhibition, and Whiteley’s career-defining Christie series (1965), which boldly explores the crimes and psyche of convicted British murderer John Christie.

Baldessin/Whiteley: Parallel Visions
31 August 2018 – 28 January 2019
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne




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