National Gallery of Victoria Education Resource

Gordon Bennett


Education
Gordon Bennett

Activities

Art Practice and Industry Issues

5.1 Explore and respond – focus on stylistic shifts

Bennett has continued to work in new ways with materials, techniques and images throughout his career, resisting any classification or confinement according to style.  At the same time his work demonstrates great conceptual unity and interconnectedness.
Discuss with reference to a selection of at least three works in the exhibition, clearly identifying stylistic shifts, and evidence of conceptual unity.

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5.2 Think and discuss – issues of interpretation

People tend to focus on the emotional aspect rather than the conceptual when interpreting my work, and that bothers me.  Even when the starting point for a work is an emotive one, I believe I conceptually examine the ideas behind the emotion and extrapolate from there Gordon Bennett1

What aspects of Bennett’s works might viewers focus on as emotional?  Discuss with reference to examples in at least two works by Bennett.
What evidence can you find of Bennett conceptually examining the ideas behind the emotion, and extrapolating from there?  Discuss with reference to the same works.

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5.3 Research and investigate – John Citizen historical/social context

John Citizen is an artist for our times: he reflects back to us citizens the white Australia of the post–Keating era. Ian McLean 2

Who was Paul Keating? What values or ideas characterise the post–Keating era in Australia? How might John Citizen be seen as reflection of the post Keating era?

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5.4 Research and investigate – Recent work

Bennett’s recent abstract paintings reflect links to a range of artists including Australians Robert McPherson, Emily Kam Kngwarray and Ronnie Tjampitjinpa, and International artist Frank Stella. Find examples of the work of these artists. Based on your understanding of Bennett’s motivations for the abstract paintings, outlined in the quote in the text, suggest what may have interested Bennett about the work of these artists.

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5.5 Explore and respond – Recent work

…while Bennett may have attempted, in recent years, to disconnect from the politics of his earlier practice, there is also a sense within these paintings, of the impossibility of such a task. For given the artist’s own history of ‘engagement’, these works are not considered ‘simple’ abstract paintings, but abstract paintings by ‘Gordon Bennett’; coloured or even tainted by, the history, concerns and associations of the artist’s earlier work. Kelly Gellatly 3

What is your personal interpretation of the abstract paintings? Is this response informed by Bennett’s previous work?  Explain.

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5.6 Think and discuss – context for work

One of the long–term goals for my work is to have my paintings returned to the pages of text books from which many of the images in them originated, where they may act as sites around which a more ‘enlightened’ kind of knowledge may circulate; perhaps a knowledge that is understood from the outset as culturally relative Gordon Bennett 4

What does Bennett’s goal for his work suggest to you about how he views the role of art?
Would you include work by Gordon Bennett in a text book on Australian history. Why?

Possession Island 1991 was recently purchased by the Historic Houses Trust of NSW.

Why might such an organisation purchase this painting?

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5.7 Think and discuss – artists’ rights

Why do artists such as Gordon Bennett and Tracey Moffatt (b.1960) systematically decline to participate in exhibitions of Aboriginal art?
What legal, moral and ethical rights does an artist have to control the way their work is seen and viewed in exhibitions, books or online.
Are these rights adequate?  Why?

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5.8 Research and investigate – Critical responses to the exhibition

Collect reviews of the exhibition Gordon Bennett.  Summarise the main points of each review. Do you agree with these opinions? Explain why using evidence from your own viewing of the exhibition.
(This could be done as a group activity with small groups of students being assigned a review and the task of leading a discussion or debate about this review).
Sebastian Smee ‘In the mix’ The Australian, September 22, 2007
Robert Nelson ‘Gordon Bennett’ The Age, September 19, 2007

The task could also be extended to include a consideration of opinions expressed on blogs. How do these opinions compare to those expressed in other commentaries?  Suggest reasons for this.  Create a class blog to share responses to the exhibition.

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References

      1.
  • ‘Conversation – Bill Wright talks to Gordon Bennett’, in Kelly Gellatly with contributions by Bill Wright, Justin Clemens and Jane Devery, Gordon Bennett (exhibition catalogue), National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne 2007, p. 98
  •   2.
  • Ian McLean, ‘Who is John Citizen?’ Greenaway Art Gallery, 2006, n.p. http://www.greenaway.com.au/artists/BennettG/Essay01.htm accessed 29/11/07
  •   3.
  • Kelly Gellatly ‘Citizen in the making’, in Kelly Gellatly, p. 24
  •   4.
  • Gordon Bennett, ‘The Manifestoe’, Ian McLean & Gordon Bennett, The art of Gordon Bennett, Craftsman House, Roseville East, 1996, p. 60