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Polixeni Papapetrou
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Media Release • 9 Jul 19

Olympia: Photographs by Polixeni Papapetrou

The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia | 27 September 2019 – 15 March 2020 | Free Entry

Olympia: Photographs by Polixeni Papapetrou is the first major museum retrospective of Australian photographer Polixeni Papapetrou (1961–2018). The exhibition comprises photographs of the artist’s daughter Olympia. From her birth (1997) until her mother’s death last year, Olympia played a central role in Papapetrou’s image making, variously assuming the complex roles of model and muse, collaborator and champion.

Olympia: Photographs by Polixeni Papapetrou surveys twenty years of Papapetrou’s practice and includes works from her best-known series, as well as images never before displayed in Melbourne. Influenced by her PhD on the work of nineteenth-century English author Lewis Carroll, Papapetrou’s work explores the representation of children in historical and contemporary settings and their role in society, the complex stereotypes surrounding childhood and, later, issues of identity and the individual.

Following the birth of her daughter, Papapetrou’s work underwent a significant change. Her earlier work had focused on the carefully constructed and stage-managed worlds of people who lived, worked and played in disguise, including drag queens, wrestlers and avid Elvis fans. After Olympia’s birth, Papapetrou began photographing her children and their friends, opening up a world of play acting, imagination and storytelling.

Olympia: Photographs by Polixeni Papapetrou was curated in collaboration with the artist’s family and includes a number of celebrated series ranging from Phantomwise 2003, her first major series featuring Olympia, through to her final series MY HEART – still full of her, 2018. Other series include her clown series Melancholia 2014, which reflects the artist’s grief on hearing her second, and ultimately terminal, cancer diagnosis; and her floral Eden series, 2016 that highlights the impermanence of life.

The final series of works in the exhibition brings together early self-portraits by Papapetrou and images of Olympia drawn from the artists archive. These take on a new life, and luminescence, printed on canvas in rich tones of black, gold and silver.

Tony Ellwood AM, Director, National Gallery of Victoria said, ‘Polixeni Papapetrou was a singular Australian artist, known for her compelling photographs that show childhood as a complex realm of imagination and storytelling. We are pleased to have been able to work in collaboration with her family to present this wonderful exhibition that offers unprecedented insight into her oeuvre.’

The NGV has published a monograph to coincide with the exhibition. It covers twenty years of Papapetrou’s practice and features contributions from Susan van Wyk, NGV Senior Curator of Photography; Robert Nelson, art critic and widower of Papapetrou; and Papapetrou’s children, Olympia and Solomon Nelson.

Olympia: Photographs by Polixeni Papapetrou is on display from Friday 27 September 2019 to Sunday 15 March 2020 at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia at Federation Square. Entry is FREE. Further information is available from the NGV website: NGV.MELBOURNE.