Sarah Goffman

In "Applied Arts," an exhibition of new work and historical objects at the University of Sydney's Chau Chak Wing Museum, Sarah Goffman enumerates possibilities, imagines histories, and fleshes out connections between objects in the museum's theatre.

Curatorial staff at the Chau Chak Wing Museum, of the University of Sydney, say that they started discussions for Sarah Goffman’s Applied Arts in 2018, “while we were developing the Chau Chak Wing Museum. Sarah had just undertaken a wonderful kids’ school holiday workshop and we felt that a larger project was needed to do justice to the extraordinary breadth of her practice.”

Across this far ranging exhibition (and Goffman notes, in text around the show, the influence of her own maximalist tendencies), the artist extrapolates speculative transhistorical and cross-cultural relationships, possible histories, and imagined futures from objects in the Museum’s broad collection. Goffman’s work, that is, extends the curatorial thinking that underpins the organisation, categorisation, and display of museological collections. She thinks about the life of matter in our cultural and historical experience: the traces left by objects on each other – often in surprising ways – and on us. Old man, 2020, for instance, responds to a 2000-year-old fragment of a glass plaque held in the University’s Nicholson collection, which depicts the “old man” character in New Comedy plays. Goffman’s bowl, made of hot glue, at once builds out from the object’s known history and reflects, in its very materials (plastic, and a sticky one at that), on ideas of permanence and authenticity which haunt museum collections such as this. 

There is an abiding interest, too, in Orientalism throughout Goffman’s work. In Sewing table copy, 2021, for instance, Goffman reflects on the historical and geopolitical contexts in which decorative objects have been circulated between cultures. Her “base” object her is a lacquered, mid-nineteenth century secretary case/sewing cabinet which would appear, at first blush, Japanese – instead, it’s an American copy, “borrowing” motifs and aesthetic vocabulary from the Other, Eastern side of the globe.

This expansive, imaginative, and thoroughly researched show builds on Goffman’s relationship with the University of Sydney, with  Camouflage at the Sydney College of the Arts in 2013, and Paradise Found at the Tin Sheds Gallery at the Camperdown Campus in 2008.  

Sarah Goffman: Applied Arts
From 18 October 2021
Chau Chak Wing Museum, University of Sydney



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