A spiritual sequel to the major Water exhibition presented at QAGOMA over summer 2019-20 Water exhibition, Air will be a must-see show at Queensland’s Gallery of Modern Art this summer. (QAGOMA).

Open from November 26, 2022 until April 23, 2023 (with tickets on sale in the coming months) Air will include immersive and large-scale works by leading international and Australian artists exploring the cultural, ecological and political dimensions of air.

“The exhibition will be a journey through this invisible, ethereal and vital element. It will reflect on our shared atmosphere as life-giving, potentially dangerous and rapidly warming. It will prompt us to reconsider all facets of air, an element we sometimes take for granted.

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“We’ve thought about the air we share, people struggling for breath, and the major climate challenge that we’re facing,” says curator Geraldine Kirrihi Barlow, Head of International Art, QAGOMA. “I really enjoy working with a big theme that allows you to unpack all of that from different angles.”

Air includes 29 artists from 13 different countries and it will be presented in as five chapters across all of the ground-floor galleries of QAGOMA. Beyond works that examine air as a natural substance, there will be artworks exploring the connections and, often, the disconnections experienced by many of us today.

“We wanted to find different ways for people to slow down and think about different aspects of air, breath and breathing,” says Barlow. “We seem to be separated into a lot of different camps at the moment, so I think a key role of Qaqoma is to bring people together to experience a shared sense of wonder. Art inspires us to think again about the world.”

A wide variety of approaches come into play in Air, with works ranging from the late Arrernte painter Albert Namatjira’s watercolour landscapes to Melbourne artist Rosslynd Piggott’s Collection of air—27.12.1992–28.2.1993, a set of sealed test tubes full of air gathered from the artist’s travels in Europe, with specific dates and locations noted on each.

Elsewhere, photographer Wolfgang Sievers’s 1977 image of an escalator under construction at Melbourne’s Parliament station evokes an ominous, alien setting, while Palestinian artist Mona Hatoum continues her Hot Spot series, with a work that depicts a red-hot globe that burns like the filament of a toaster. Global warming also looms over images by photographer Rachel Mounsey, whose shots taken in Victoria’s most isolated town, Mallacoota during the 2019–2020 Australian bushfires were widely shared.

“People really love coming to see those enormous, immersive artworks,” says Barlow. “Air will contain major new commissioned works and loans, but it’s also an opportunity to show some incredible treasures from the Qaqoma collection. Sometimes these are really big, ambitious works, but we will also have pieces that would fit in the palm of your hand.”

On the mega-sized end of the scale is Ron Mueck’s much-loved sculpture In bed 2005, which features an enormously-scaled, fearful looking woman tucked up in bed. Mueck’s artwork encourages visitors to move around it and examine it up close. Similarly engaging is the QAGOMA collection work Crossing 2016, a solid light installation by British artist Anthony McCall. Housed in the final room of the exhibition, Crossing evokes what Barlow calls “an architecture of light” – forms that people love to reach out and touch or walk through, despite their intangibility.

For Barlow, artwork like that can be novel and accessible while also containing subtle commentary about who has access to clean air and other basic human rights. “The quality of the air we share is such a big issue,” she says. “I hope this exhibition will be gentle in some ways, and galvanising in others.”


This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Tourism and Events Queensland.