7 July 2004

2004 - Australian Culture Now, Fed Square

"Now" is the operative word in this new survey of Australian contemporary art, the most ambitious mounted in five years, say co-hosts NGV Australia and the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI). 2004 - Australian Culture Now represents the first major collaboration between the two principal tenants of Federation Square in Melbourne, the former one of Australia's oldest cultural institutions, the latter barely two years old and playing catch-up.

At its June 14 launch, NGV director Gerard Vaughan announced 2004 had been "deliberately timed for the Biennale [of Sydney]", which opened a week earlier, "to get international visitors to see both buildings fully operating". Hardly a noble aspiration but cultural tourists seeking a quality museum experience will still come away sated. Certainly, 2004 leaves a stronger aftertaste than the thematic conceits of the Sydney Biennale. On Reason and Emotion is left looking a little tired and emotional against the optimism of 2004's brash demand for "strayin' kulcha now!"

Bar a few exceptions, such as octogenarian Aboriginal artist Paddy Bedford, 2004 is stacked with twenty- and thirty-somethings presented as the latest uncomplicated incarnation of "the new". Ten curators from both NGV Australia and ACMI have chosen 130 artists to exhibit in their two gallery venues, on free-to-air television and across vast chunks of cyberspace and other virtual networks. Should 2004 be well received, the plan is to mount the national survey every three years, slotting into the calendar in years complementary to Sydney's Biennale and Brisbane's Asia Pacific Triennial (due again in 2005). At least the major sponsor, Ernst & Young, is happy. The management consultants, standing in as modern-day Medicis, are certain that 2004 offers "a snapshot of the most exciting things happening in Australian art today".